Trump’s Commerce Sec’y Gets Delisted; Valeant Unvaliant with Female Viagra; Rainbows and Unicorns: Oprah’s Effect on Weight Watchers

Oops, I did it again…

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Looks like things are getting awkward for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr. Turns out Trump’s buddy has some Russian connections that might just put him in a bit of a pickle. It goes a little something like this: The Commerce Secretary has some investments in a shipping firm he used to run called Navigator Holdings. The problem here is that this particular shipping firm has ties to some people that are subject to U.S. sanctions. One of those ties is none other than Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.  Mr. Ross knew that he was supposed to unload all kinds of holdings that could potentially be a conflict of interest once he took office. And he did. Mostly. Just not really with this one. To be fair, Mr. Ross has a lot of partnerships and it’s those partnerships that retain a significant stake in Navigator Holdings. But still. It’s a problem, even if there’s nothing necessarily illegal about his ties to this shipping firm since he didn’t disclose those ties in the first place. This new development, along with tons of other juicy information, came courtesy of the leaked documents known as the “Paradise Papers” from the Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby. As for Mr. Ross, that’s not the only reason he’s been making headlines today. Apparently, on those very disclosure forms, where Mr. Ross neglected to mention his dubious Russian ties, he also neglected to mention that he isn’t a billionaire. Not to say that he’s a pauper. Far from it. However, his estimated assets are less than $700 million, not the $2 billion he said he’s worth. Even worse, for Ross’s ego anyway, is that he’s getting dropped from Forbes 400 wealthiest list, because let’s face it, $700 million just doesn’t cut it.

Typical…

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Valeant is the big kahuna making good waves on Wall Street with an earnings beat that sent the stock up 15% today.  Much of that had to do with a 6% increase across its divisions not to mention the boost it got from unloading some of its debt. The company picked up $3.69 per share on a $1.3 billion profit. But that wasn’t the only reason for the boost. Remember Addyi? It’s the drug that was dubbed the “female viagra”  and Valeant bought it from Sprout Pharmaceuticals around two years ago for about $1 billion. Problem is, the deal had been bleeding money since the beginning. Now, two years later, Valeant actually gave Sprout shareholders $25 million just to take the drug back and put it back in business. But that was only after Sprout sued Valeant because it felt the drugmaker wasn’t marketing the drug well. In all fairness to Valeant however, plenty of medical experts just weren’t that into the drug. Because, besides saying that the drug wasn’t that effective, they also felt that potential users wouldn’t be inclined to taking Addyi given that there was a risk of fainting. Yes, fainting. In fact, the fainting would occur following alcohol consumption while taking the drug. I’m pretty sure anyone could see why that would be a problem.

Weight a minute…

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Oprah Winfrey seems to have the Midas touch, at least with Weight Watchers, as the stock rallied today way over 20% to 54.43, its highest price in four years. Revenue numbers were also ridiculously impressive, coming in at almost $324 million, a 15% increase over last year’s revenue during this period. But back to Oprah. The media titan bought a hefty chunk of the company two years ago and will once again grace Weight Watchers ads. Besides the Oprah effect, the weight-loss company put some major thought into both its digital operations and marketing campaign, which apparently paid off given the fact that the company increased its subscribers by 18% to 3.4 million. Here’s the fun part: Analysts thought the company would do pretty good anyway, bringing in 51 cents per share. But Weight Watchers did better than pretty good, adding 67 cents per share on a $45 million profit. That, by the way, was a $10 million increase from last year at this time. Which kind of has me starting to think about all the companies that good use Oprah on their boards. Twitter, maybe?  Oh, and did I mention that Weight Watchers also raised it full year earnings outlook? Indeed it did and now, instead of expecting to earn between $1.57 and $1.67, it now expects to make between $1.77 and $1.83.  And if that’s not impressive enough for you, consider that shares of Weight Watchers are up 360% just for 2017.

 

 

Pharmaceutical Phraud; Yellen for a Hike; Wells Fargo-away

There’s a fungus among us…

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There’s another pharmaceutical company today that’s in big trouble today and this time it has nothing to do with EpiPens. Today’s alleged fraudulent crimes are brought to us by former Valeant Pharmaceutical Inc. executive Gary Tanner and defunct Philidor Pharmaceutical Services LLC chief executive Andrew Davenport. Tanner and Davenport allegedly participated in a fraud and kick-back scheme that netted the two tens of millions of dollars. Gosh who knew the pharmaceutical industry could be such a hot bed for illicit activity? The two execs apparently didn’t disclose to insurers that the two companies were connected. Valeant played the part of the big fancy drug company and Philidor played the supporting role of the mail-order pharmacy that conveniently helped boost sales of Valeant’s drug offerings by making sure they filled Valeant prescriptions. Philidor graciously assisted patients in getting insurance coverage for considerably pricier Valeant drugs instead of cheaper alternatives. In the meantime, Philidor would then request to be reimbursed by the insurance companies. Davenport apparently scored over $40 million from the scheme while Davenport only walked away with a paltry $10 million worth of kickbacks. Clearly he needs to hone his fraud “A” game. The scheme ran from December 2012 until September 2015 with the criminal complaint being filed in Manhattan Federal Court. Back in August of 2015, Valeant’s stock hit an all-time closing high of $262.52. But it should come as no surprise that the stock has since lost more than 80% of its value for a number of reasons, each worse than the next. The stock was trading under $18 today.

1-2-3 hike!

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Janet Yellen (thankfully) stole the Wall Street spotlight from Donald Trump today announcing that a rate hike “could well become appropriate relatively soon.” Loosely translated, it means it could and most likely will happen soon so feel free to hold your breath. The decision not to raise the rate at the last meeting was because the labor market still wasn’t quite where the Fed wanted to see it.  But now things are looking up…fiscally speaking, that is, and with steady job growth, wage gains and signs that point to firming inflation, that rate hike is looking like a done deal. But I guess we’ll have to wait until December 13-14, the date of the Fed’s next meeting, to see when that move might officially happen. As for Janet Yellen herself, she stayed mum on the presidential election but said she plans to stay on in her post until January of 2018, when her term officially ends. Many assumed that Yellen would resign once Trump was elected considering he’s not exactly a fan of her monetary policies.  But the Dove of Wall Street let ’em know that she’s staying put, Trump or not.

Cry me a river…

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Wells Fargo is getting some heavy doses of fiscal karma as it reported today that there were 44% fewer new account openings in October of 2016, compared to October 2015. That’s in addition to a 27% drop just from last month. As for credit card applications, those dropped by half to just 200,00 in October. There was a 3% increase in customer initiated closings over previous months as well. Because after all, why wouldn’t you choose to close an  account that you didn’t choose to open in the first place? However, Wells Fargo was at least savvy enough to make such predictions as October marked a full month since the lid was blown off the bank’s unauthorized accounts scandal as the settlement was disclosed on September 8 to the whopping tune of $185 million. But at least the bank finally and wisely decided to chuck sales goals for consumer bankers which were the primary culprit that ultimately led to the scandal. As for former CEO John Stumpf, he’s a free agent now, not that anyone’s going to be checking out his LinkedIn profile anytime soon.

Macy’s Banks on Closures; Alibaba’s Boffo Quarter; Unvaliant Valeant

Winning…

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Shares of Macy’s soared today as investors gleefully cheered the retailer’s decision to close 15% of the company’s 728 stores. Presumably not as gleeful are the employees who work in those stores. While the locations of the closures have not been announced, many of those employees will be given a severance, provided they qualify, or be given the option to relocate. The stores to be shuttered have been costing an annual  $1 billion in annual sales. And in the face of online competition, that $1 billion could be put to better use like beefing up Macy’s e-commerce and finding bigger and better ways to further improve the better-performing stores. With Macy’s looking to invest in a “winning customer experience,” the company plans to bring in more brand shops and host a slew of in-store events that will hopefully drive traffic into the stores. Macy’s 2Q results saw sales fall about 4% to almost $6 billion in revenue with 54 cents added per share. To be fair, it did beat expectations of $5.8 billion in revenue with 45 cents added per share. But a strong dollar, off-price stores, bad-weather and less tourism didn’t help matters. Don’t knock the tourist angle; those visitors account for 5% of Macy’s annual sales.

More winning…

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China’s economy might be struggling but you’d never know it judging from Alibaba’s most recent earnings. The e-commerce giant posted its best revenue growth since its auspicious IPO back in 2014. Revenue grew a mind-blowing 59% from the same time last year to…wait for it…$4.8 billion. That impressive revenue figure was even more impressive if only because more money was made from mobile shopping than from PC’s. Talk about seismic shifts. Interestingly enough, the value of the goods it sells, aka gross merchandise value, only grew by about 24%. And like all good earnings reports, shares went up today on Wall Street. Profit for the e-commerce giant came in at $1.3 billion, a 71% increase over last year, with 74 cents added per share. Analysts only expected shares to increase by 63 cents. Monthly active users increased by 39% from the same time last year. It’s not just that the amount of monthly active users went up, but also that the average Alibaba user opens the app approximately seven times per day. Which probably explains why they account for 75% of the company’s sales.

There’s a fungus among us…

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There’s nothing like a criminal probe to completely throw your shares under the fiscal bus.  Today’s probe is brought to us by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, purveyor of everybody’s favorite toe-nail fungus treatment, Jublia. The burning question is whether Valeant had a very special relationship with a specialty pharmacy that helped inflate its drug prices. The specialty pharmacy at the heart of the probe is, or rather was, Pennsylvania-based Philidor Rx Services. Investigators suspect the mail-order pharmacy and Valeant were a little too close for comfort as far as insurance and wire fraud is concerned. It seems that Philidor wasn’t being entirely truthful to insurers about its relationship with Valeant so that it could sell lots of Valeant drugs at prices that seemed rather high. Distributors, in this case Philidor, are supposed to be completely neutral, yet Philidor seemed anything but, with almost all of its products that it sold coming from Valeant.  These days, however, Valeant (conveniently) says it didn’t condone Philidor’s practices. Valeant naturally neglected to mention the very large role it played in those practices. Incidentally, sales of Valeant dermatological products plunged since Philidor went the way of the dinosaur and now Valeant is staring in the face of $30 billion of long-term debt and a market value that plunged by 90% in the last twelve months. As criminal charges loom large, brass at Valeant have booted CEO Michael Pearson and overhauled the board of directors in a  seemingly desperate bid to restore investor confidence. Good luck with that one.

The Bitter End Might Have Just Arrived For Valeant Pharmaceuticals; Cocoa: Get it While You Still Can; It Seems Japan Is Not As Far As It Seems

Has their time finally come to an end?

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Image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could it be that the Valeant/Allergan saga has finally come to an anti-climactic end? Just when things seemed to be getting juicy, in walks generic drug-maker Actavis with an offer of $219 per share, making Valeant’s impending hostile takeover nothing more than a bad memory for Allergan. If you recall, everyone’s favorite (and only) Botox-maker had been fighting off Valeant’s fiscal hostilities for months. And in one fell money-minded swoop, Actavis put in an offer for Allergan that not only values it at about $66 billion, but also makes it so that it doesn’t have to deal with Bill Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management, which by the way, has almost a 9.7% stake in Allergan. Neither Pershing Square nor Valeant had any comment on the new offer and why would they. Besides, they win either way. This new deal adds quite a few billion dollars to Pershing Square’s already plump portfolio. As for Valeant, well it has already begun to set its fiscal sights on animal care company Zoetis.

Start hoarding the Hersheys…

Image Courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It just might be that the world really is coming to an end. If a recent report by Bloomberg is correct (and seriously, it’s Bloomberg so I am sure it is), then the world will be in the throes of a chocolate shortage, with demand outpacing supply in the year 2020 by one million metric tons. If that’s not considered armageddon, then I don’t what is. Some of the factors to blame: Ebola. Yes that obnoxious, noxious deadly virus has given us ample reasons to hate it and here’s yet one more. West Africa supplies us with almost 75% of the world’s cocoa. The fact that the countries afflicted with Ebola are so close to the countries that supply cocoa are basically freaking people out on so many levels. Of course drought always manages to play a menacing role in crops and cocoa is no different. In fact the price of cocoa, whether you realized it or not (or simply just tried to feign ignorance) has gone up 60% since 2012. Combine that with pests and other plant diseases and that Hershey bar with almonds is becoming but a distant memory. So start stockpiling those candy bars. In a few years you might just be able to pay your mortgage with them.

So what’s the big deal?

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Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Japan is staring into the wrong end of a recession after reporting its second straight quarter of growth contraction. Never a good thing especially when we’re talking about the world’s second largest economy. So why should we, on this side of the planet, care? Well for one, its toying with our financial markets. Our markets don’t particularly like it when other markets in other parts of the world have fiscal issues and Japan’s are quite large. Then we must take into account that our European friends across the pond aren’t too thrilled, as are we,  with state of their financial markets, which have seem to have come to a slowdown/standstill. When that happens, the United States ends up having to support more than its fair share of the global economy which, naturally extends on over to us, the taxpayers. See how that all works out so unpleasantly?

IBuMmer; Icahn/Andreesen Billionaire Smackdown; Valeant/Allergan Smackdown

 Big Blue-boo…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perhaps you recall IBM?  Perhaps you don’t. The once powerful company that sat at the forefront of technology is now at the forefront of…nothing as the company just released its very disappointing earnings. The once mighty maker of chips – and I don’t mean potato (though we might be seeing better earnings if the chips were indeed of the potato variety), has sold that portion of its business. Revenue was down 4% to $22.4 billion which might seem like a nice beefy number except that analysts were expecting $1 billion more than that. And the company’s revenue has been going down for a few years now.  Analysts expected  the company to at least pull in $4.32 per share. It didn’t. Instead, profits for IBM took a 10% dive earning $3.68 per share.  Oh well. There’s always next quarter.

Love doesn’t live here anymore…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s official. Marc Andreesen and Carl Icahn are not friends. And I don’t think they ever can be. At least not anymore after Mr. Icahn said in an interview that Andreessen is “what’s wrong with corporate America” and Andreesen telling CNBC that Carl Icahn lies and “makes stuff up.” Where is the love gentlemen? In any case, the latest episode in the Icahn/Andreessen saga is that Marc Andreesen has bid a not-so-fond farewell to the board over at EBay. It seems the extremely prescient Silicon Valley billionaire, Andreesen, and activist investor, Icahn,  got themselves tangled in yet another kerfuffle which has probably something to do with the kerfuffle they had earlier where Mr. Icahn accused Mr. Andreesen and fellow board member, Scott Cook, of having conflicts of interests where PayPal and EBay are concerned. I shall spare you the lurid details. Mr. Andreesen and Mr. Cook vehemently disagreed with Mr. Icahn’s accusation. But alas, it matters not as PayPal is no longer one with EBay. As for hopes of Mr. Andreesen and Mr. Icahn burying the corporate hatchet (or whatever it is that insanely wealthy executives do), don’t hold your breath.

A wrinkle in plans…

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Image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perhaps you may recall pharmaceutical giant Valeant? Perhaps you recall how this pharmaceutical giant wanted to take over another pharmaceutical giant by the name of Allergan, notable for perennial fan fave Botox? And perhaps you recall that Allergan would prefer if Valeant would just go away? Well, it looks like that’s not going to happen anytime soon as Valeant just released some very impressive earnings, easily trumping analysts’ expectations. Except that Valeant also had good earnings. But no matter because Valeant really wants very badly to scoop up Allergan even though Allergan very badly does not want that to happen. Activist investor Bill Ackman, and his Pershing Square Capital Management LP, who is gunning for an Allergan takeover, just might make that even likelier and hostile-r because of Valeant’s newly announced, financially robust numbers, since numbers like those will allow him, together with Valeant, to up the ante to buy out the fabulous Botox maker.

 

Botoxed-Off, Toyed-Off and Great Whites Great For Tourism

In this week’s pharmaceutical saga…

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Image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Allergan, the company behind the super-important and super glam, Botox, is making news while erasing wrinkles. How ’bout that. The company announced its plan to cut 1500 jobs – roughly 13% of its work force  – hoping it will make things more efficient and productive. In the meantime Valeant, together with Pershing Square Capital, has been trying to buy(out) Allergan for $53 billion and has been tattle-telling on Allergan to regulators -and anybody else who’ll listen, about alleged rumors and other comments it made. More like the stuff of playgrounds than boardrooms but at least it keeps things interesting. The Irvine, California-based company is trying to fend off Valeant’s offers for a (hostile) takeover which Allergan says “substantially undervalues” the company. Unfortunately for Allergan, its biggest shareholder Capital Research Management just sold off its own 6.3% stake in the company, which seems to suggest that it doesn’t feel Allergan’s value is going much higher than what Valeant is offering.

Not feeling very playful…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hasbro, maker of some of America’s most beloved board games, like Monopoly and Twister, is finding that America is not so much loving them anymore. The company that also makes Play-Doh and Nerf toys took a hit in its earnings even though sales in its boys division pulled off a 32% surge to the tune of $335 million in sales. Despite their super-hero status, there was only so much Marvel Superheroes and Transformers could do as no force seems to be greater than Wall Street which hoped for $842 million and a profit of $.37 per share. Sadly, Hasbro was only able to reign in $829 million and a penny less in earnings per share. My Little Pony and her and perfectly coiffed equine friends also helped with a $163.8 million in sales but those board games took a 12% beating. However, this time last year, the toy company pulled in over $766 million, so at least it wasn’t a total bust.

Great Escapes…

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Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Instead of filling would be beach goers with fear, Great White Sharks have been causing a tourist spending frenzy. The carnivorous ocean denizens are creating quite a stir in the retail arena with sales of shark paraphanerlia surging. Sure, the sighting of a fin might evoke fear and panic, but don’t rule out the need for shark hoodies, shark-themed candies and the ever cuddly great-white shark plush toy. Since 1916, there have been over a hundred unprovoked attacks – thirteen of them deadly. From Cape Cod down to the Florida coast and beyond, you can count on one thing – Sharks are good for the economy.

 

Oracle Goes Shopping, More Drug Drama and BNP Paribas Has a Tres Big Fine to Pay

What a bargain…

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Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oracle spent a few bucks today. Actually a billion bucks today. The company that is now making a big push towards cloud services just picked up Micros Systems for $5.3 billion or about $68 per share. It was Oracle’s biggest shopping day since 2010 when it scooped up Sun Microsystems. Micros Systems makes technology for the hospitality and retail industries, two sectors in which I don’t spend nearly enough money. The move caused shares of both companies to go up a teeny bit. But every little bit helps. Especially for Oracle who just released earnings on Thursday and disappointed Wall Street analysts by earning just $.80 per share instead of a much hoped for $.83 per share. Oh well.

Reject!

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Image courtesy of patpitchaya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As we return to the Valeant/Allergan pharmaceutical saga, Allergan has been urging shareholders to reject Canadian based Valeant’s insulting $53 billion bid. Really, if you’re going to try and buy the company that makes Botox you better bring it. Allergan is eager to point out that a hostile takeover like that is simply not in the best interest of the company, especially for the board members who will no doubt be booted from their positions if this takeover does indeed transpire. Partnering with Valeant on this bid is activist investor Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management who already made an offer for the company back in April. According to Allergan’s board members that $53 billion figure seriously undervalues the company – and not just any company but the company responsible for freezing many celebrity faces.

And that’s what you get…

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Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like French bank BNP Paribas is about to get slapped with a nasty little fine to the tune of almost $10 billion. But don’t feel so bad for them considering they were helping out Iran, Sudan and other countries led by people who have no sense of humanity. It’s rumored the bank will plead guilty for having violated US sanctions by hiding about $30 billion in transactions. The bank allegedly violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. That basically means they very nicely assisted very evil people to do very bad business. BNP Paribas is the second major European bank to plead guilty this year. Credit Suisse pled their guilt a few months ago and coughed up a $2.6 billion fine for hiding US assets from the IRS.