Whole Foods is Getting a Whole Lot Sunnier; Nothing Like a Good Shareholder Fight; Urban Outfitter Pleasantly Surprises

Here comes the sun…

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Image courtesy of digitalart/FreedIgitalPhotos.net

Whole Foods is getting solar with a little help from Elon Musk’s Solar City and NRG Energy.  Of its 430-plus locations, up to 184 Whole Foods stores will get the solar treatment and with the stashes of money it is expected to save over the long run, maybe the organic grocer will start pricing their merchandise a little more cost-friendly. Whole Foods went with both companies so as not to be limited. Sounds fair. With a disappointing fourth quarter that saw a $432 million loss and a slower rate of growth, SolarCity’s stock needed this deal which gave its stock a solid 6.3% lift. Because oil prices have been so low, consumers haven’t exactly felt the fiscal pinch to get cost-effective solar installations and SolarCity’s been feeling that effect in its numbers. No word yet on which locations will get the solar experience but the move will put Whole Foods in the same company as Costco and Walmart for being among the top 25 corporate companies to go solar.

United they fall…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

United Airlines has had better…decades, as two investment funds, who together own a 7.1% stake in the airline, are gearing up to turn the airline’s board of directors on its head. PAR Capital Management Inc. and Altimeter Capital Management LP aren’t happy with the way things have been going at the airline, which happens to be ranked as the third largest carrier by traffic and boasts 85,000 employees. The firms have nominated 6 new directors for the United Continental Holding Inc. board in hopes of undoing the “poor performance and bad decisions over the last several years.” Ouch. Because they feel the board is ineffective, one of the board members they are looking to bring in is former CEO Gordon Bethune, who ran the ship from 1994 – 2004, and is credited with turning the airline around back then. Shareholders will vote on the issue at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in the spring. Judging by the company’s low-employees morale, poor customer service, spate of electronic glitches and its inability to improve its on-time performance, there’s probably a whole lot of ugly going on there. The fact is that most of the other big airlines are cranking out huge billion dollar profits, while United Continental is still figuring out how to play catch-up, even after its 2010 merger, which is still plagued by tons of kinks. This news comes just two days after CEO Oscar Munoz announced that he’d be returning to his post on March 14, after being on medical leave since his October heart attack. Oscar Munoz came on board back in September, on the heels of former CEO Jeff Smisek stepping down after it was disclosed that there was a federal investigation involving United Continental and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

So trendy…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Urban Outfitters’ stock rallied today close to 17% and for a few good reasons. First, the company took in a profit of $72.9 million, adding 61 cents per share. Even though last year the company took in $80.3 million and 60 cents a share, it was still a Wall Street beat since analysts predicted that this time around the retailer would only add 56 cents per share. Boom. The company flat-lined in terms of its net sales, posting $1.01 billion, but it was the improved margins that had Wall Street tongues wagging. There are few things that Wall Street loves more than improved margins and execs are expecting more improvement on the Urban Outfitter fiscal horizon. The trendy apparel company also scored big with customers by adding some new beauty products that it started selling both online and in 70 shops within the stores. In fact, that rollout proved to be such a success that 60 more stores will get to revel in that retail experience.  Investors were so wowed by Urban Outfitters results that over a dozen brokerages even raised their target prices for the company’s stock, with some brokerages predicting those shares could go as high as $38 a share.  Not every analyst was as generous, however, the stock did close today at 32.69.

Walmart Bums Out Wall Street; Puma Deals a Mighty Blow to Yeezy; Is IBM Back in the Game?

Fall-mart…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Walmart announced earnings and, in the process, managed to put a damper on Wall Street’s day. The company posted .6% growth and while nobody argues that growth is bad , the company still missed expectations of 1% growth. It’s now expected that Walmart will post a very boring flat line to illustrate its net sales even though previous forecasts called for 3% to 4% growth. Profits for Walmart fell almost 8% to $4.57 billion and posted revenues of $129.7 billion. While that may seem like a nice beefy number, analysts still expected $131 billion in revenue. The numbers weren’t helped by Walmart’s decision to close 269 stores worldwide, including 154 just in the United States. Then there were those wage increases and investments into its digital commerce that ate a bit into those profits. But Walmart is banking on the fact that those investments will yield big returns, even if it does mean a little wait. After all, if it’s gonna compete with Amazon, it’s gotta put in the time and money. Of course, mother-nature gets some of the blame too, seeing as how warm weather put a crimp in sales of cold weather merchandise. But don’t rule out the strong dollar, which also deserves plenty of the blame. At least shares are up over 6% in the last three months and the retailer is raising its dividend by 4 cents to generous $2 per share. Woohoo.

Swift karma…

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Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Puma had a very good quarter and much of the credit for that can go to Rihanna. Yes, that Rihanna. As the brand’s creative director, the pop star is helping shape the female future, as Puma refers to this endeavor. The company had higher than expected sales growth for its fourth quarter, just as Rihanna launched her first full goth-inspred line for the athletic apparel retailer. Back in the fall, RiRi’s remake of Puma’s classic suede kicks sold out within hours of going on sale. Puma’s profits were up 2.6% to 10.9 million euros, easily beating forecasts of 6.5 million euros. Sales rose 11.5% to 979 million euros when analysts expected just 839 million euros in sales. And maybe Kanye West should take to Twitter to hit up his sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner, for some cash, instead of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. She’s been named as the company’s brand ambassador, contrary to his hopes that she would be on his Team Yeezy Adidas line.

Have patients…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

IBM. Remember that name? The company just whipped out $2.6 billion for its latest acquisition, Truven Health Analytics. Under CEO Ginny Rometty, IBM has so far spent $4 billion in acquisitions in the last 12 months but this latest one is IBM’s biggest purchase in three years. Wall Street reacted kindly by giving shares of IBM their biggest jump since 2013, and sending them all the way up to $134. That’s especially reassuring for IBM since it posted 15 straight quarters of declining sales. Truven was acquired since IBM brass thought it would fit nicely into its Watson Health biz unit. FYI, Watson is IBM’s fabulous collection of artificial intelligence technologies that does all kinds of super fun stuff like taking data apart to analyze it, interpret it and see if any patterns can be predicted.  With this acquisition, IBM will have health info on 300 million patients and employ 5,000 people worldwide.

 

 

 

Fall-Mart; Twitter Fires, Twitter Hires; Feeling Spent

Execu-llent…

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though Twitter announced yesterday that it is shedding 8% of its workforce, today the social media company announced that its adding someone new to that very same workforce. Enter Omid Kordestani who is jumping the Google ship in order to bring his fiscal talents over to embattled Twitter.  Omid will assume Jack Dorsey’s old title of executive chairman, which he dropped last week when he, once again, assumed the title of CEO. Omid Kordestani comes to Twitter from not-at-all embattled Google Inc. where he not only left the post of Chief Business Officer, but also $115 million in equity awards. That’s according to a regulatory finding, anyway. Omid, who was apparently employee number 11 at Google, and affectionately called Google’s “business founder” by Larry Page, left the company in 2009, but returned in 2014, only to head on off into the Twitter sunset.  Even though Omid Kordestani started his Twitter account back in 2012, his most recent tweet about his new post, was only his eleventh time using the platform. His lack of tweeting is, presumably, about to change.

Not “fine” by me…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wal-Mart might be the mother-of-all retailers but, as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall, especially on Wall Street. And unfortunately, a big company like Wal-Mart has a nasty little way of taking the Dow Jones Industrial Average with it.  This particular fall was, unfortunately, rather epic. Wal-Mart took a $20 billion hit because it’s predicting a very disappointing forecast. The world’s largest retailer doesn’t expect to experience growth for fiscal 2016 (which ends in February, btw). Investors loathe bad forecasts. Well, who doesn’t? This bad forecast gave way to Wal-Mart’s biggest stock drop in 15 years and shaved 9% off the value of its shares. Of course, the strong dollar gets part of the blame as it’s hurting sales abroad. But then there’s the investment the company is putting into its e-commerce. Wal-Mart is looking to plunk down $900 million next year, and over a billion dollars the following year to beef its tech efforts. All that cash is going to gouge those much relished profits. Also eating into those profits are wage increases that the company is giving out to thousands of employees. But what really got Wall Street in a fit was when Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillion told CNBC interviewers that Wal-Mart will do “fine” during the holiday season. And that one word means anything but to investors.

Save it for later, will ya?

Image courtesy of  FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Retailers aren’t exactly giddy these days as more Americans decided to save up all that money from low gas costs instead of spending it. As a result, retail spending only experienced a .1% gain in September even though analysts predicted gains from .2% to .6%. Since consumer spending accounts for 70% of the economy, that .1% gain is nothing but brutal fiscal news. In fact, seven out of thirteen retail categories experienced declines. Ironically enough, gas stations took a 3.2% hit because…can you guess? Lower prices at the pump. Hence, they couldn’t pull in all that cash like they did in the past. What isn’t ironic, just annoying and mildly disconcerting, is that this .1% was the biggest drop since January and represented no change from August. So get out there and spend!

Airbnb Books It For Cuba; Headed Out of Indiana; Walmart’s Beef With Discrimination Bill

Bienvenido…

Image courtesy of  taesmileland/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of taesmileland/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the normalizing of relations between the United States and Cuba, you can be sure that businesses are on the hunt for the countless opportunities that can be found on the island nation. Netflix made its Cuban debut a few months back, along with a handful of other companies. Now its Airbnb’s turn. The online rental website for wallet-conscious travelers saw a 70% spike in searches for rentals on the island nation following President Obama’s announcement about the easing of restrictions there. The way Airbnb sees it, “We are actually plugging into an existing culture of micro-enterprise in Cuba. The hosts in Cuba have been doing for decades what we just started doing seven years ago.” So far the website has over a thousand rental listings. But the rentals can only be used by U.S travelers and travelers must have one of the required licenses to even travel there. Many feel that Cuba could become one of Latin America’s biggest markets, but some are skeptical that Airbnb is going to be able to take much advantage of that. With 15% of Airbnb’s fee being split between the renter and the owner, it seems likely that Cubans would rather forego Airbnb’s services and keep that extra cash for themselves. Then there’s the issues about the lack and slowness of internet access which just might impede some travel opportunities, not to mention profits, that are found online.

It’s only getting worse…

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is socking it to Indiana and its very unpopular decision to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The San Francisco-based global cloud computing company is offering relocation packages to employees who don’t feel comfortable in the Hoosier state as a result of the new law. Several employees have already taken advantage of the relocation offer. “One thing that you’re seeing is that there is a third [political] party emerging in this country, which is the party of CEOs.” In fact, more than 39 CEO’s signed a joint statement protesting the law and while Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said there would be “fixes” put into place that would offer protections for certain sexual orientation and gender identities, many remain unconvinced, and the economy in Indiana could suffer mightily. While Benioff wouldn’t mind totally ditching Indiana, he still has about 2,000 employees which makes that endeavor a little improbable. But he still has plans to significantly scale back operations there. “We want to invest in states where there is equality.” So basically, you can cross Indiana off the list.

Speaking of which…

Image courtesy of iosphere./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere./FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Walmart has done something nobody expected it to do. Not a company known to embrace social issues, it helped shoot down a bill that was similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in Indiana. Even though the retailer has been known to support many conservative causes, both fiscally and otherwise, this time it took to social media to protest this particular bill. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon wrote: “Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve.” To be fair, it would have been sheer fiscal stupidity not to protest the bill. It made perfect business sense. McMillon further added that the bill “…threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present through the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.” He then went on to ask Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill and wouldn’t ya’ know it? When the mighty Walmart talks, the Arkansas governor listens. Gov. Hutchinson amended the law.

Home Sweet Amazon-Serviced Home; Ben Bernanke Joins the Blogosphere; AG Settles Score With GNC

Is there anything it won’t sell?

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon has come out with yet another way to take your money. This time it’s through its new Amazon Home Services with over 700 home improvement service providers services at your fingertip, with verified reviews for added peace of mind. Plumbing problems? Too tired to assemble that new gym equipment? Don’t feel like vacuuming? No problem. Just log on and Amazon will make sure it all gets taken care of. Services are paid for via your Amazon account only after the project is completed. So why is Amazon’s home service offerings different from all others, like Angie’s List, Yelp etc.?  Perhaps it the comprehensive vetting process it conducts, including making sure service professionals are licensed, insured and have had their backgrounds thoroughly checked. But Amazon also offers a money-back guarantee charmingly called a “happiness guarantee.” Apparently, consumers also trust Amazon, giving an added incentive to use the ever-powerful e-commerce giant. To be fair, however, I too, once trusted Amazon. But then last month one of its vendors sent me a completely different set of fairy wings than the ones I ordered. Just sayin’.

Payback…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The blogosphere just got a bit more crowded now that Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke joined the mix with his own blog for the Brookings Institute. He is, after all, its latest Distinguished Fellow in Residence of the Economic Studies Program. It’s very pish posh, indeed. The position, I mean. Not the blog. “Now that I’m a civilian again, I can once more comment on economic and financial issues without my words being put under the microscope by Fed watchers.” Which means he doesn’t have to be polite anymore and gets to say whatever he wants. For instance, Mr. Bernanke can use his blog for, among other purposes, striking back at the many critics he’s had over the years who took issue with his policies. Janet Yellen, who took over for him last year, does not get to have that kind of fun. At least for now. In today’s post, Mr. Bernanke graciously explains the reasons behind the low interest rates. By the way, he’d like you to know that it’s not necessarily because the Fed is keeping it that way – though there is some truth to that.

Whaddya mean there’s no ginseng in there? 

Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Getideaka/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This time it is not a bank that has reached a deal with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. GNC Holdings Inc. begrudgingly settled a lawsuit over its Herbal Plus products found at GNC, of course, but also at Target, Walmart and Walgreens. Apparently, it wasn’t at all clear that the ingredients listed on the outside of the bottles of the dietary supplements were actually present on the inside. Who would have thunk it? The presence of things like echinacea, ginkgo biloba, ginseng and St. John’s wort couldn’t be verified when the AG used DNA barcoding methods to test for them. That’s kind of a huge embarrassing problem in the $33 billion a year dietary supplement industry. Of course, GNC disagrees vehemently with the AG’s testing methods saying the “lawsuits are without merit.”  GNC, however, used its own internal test methods, in addition to third party independent test methods which, naturally yielded different results. Despite all that, the supplement company will now be using bar-coding methods –  just like the AG’s office –  beginning in the next 18 months, so that consumers will know for sure if there really is echinacea in that bottle they’re holding, conveniently labeled “echinacea.”

 

 

Target-ing Pay;

You raise me up…

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target’s being a follower and that means only good things for some 350,000 of its employees. The retailer is raising its minimum wage from $8.83 to a whopping $9.00 an hour. Don’t laugh. The federal minimum wage is still only $7.25. Walmart already made that move several weeks back and TJX, which owns TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and Home Goods, is also set to follow suit. So what exactly is the downside of raising the minimum wage and why doesn’t everybody just do it already? Critics of raising the minimum wage feel that sometimes doing so might deter employers from hiring more people if they feel they have to shell out more money to do so. So yeah, it’s great if employers are paying more, just as long as you are able to get a job with them, to begin with.  Speaking of not having jobs, this minimum wage announcement comes on the heels of Target’s earlier announcement that it’s cutting about 3,000 jobs. Target’s going to need a few bucks to pay off that $10 million settlement over its 2013 security breach where 40 million cards were compromised and the personal financial information of well over a 110 million people was accessed. Victims could get up to $10,000 in damages but Target doesn’t plan on making it easy for them to collect. Alleged victims will have to bear the burden of proof and submit adequate documentation on losses they incurred.

Monopolize!

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A big happy birthday shout out goes to Monopoly, the iconic board game who turns 80 today.  The game, owned by Hasbro, comes in 47 languages and is available in 114 countries. You could pick up the game for a whole $2, back in 1935, when Parker Brothers originally bought it up from Charles Darrow. But its roots go even deeper, back to 1903, when a woman named Elizabeth Magie came up with the original incarnation of the game, which was meant to highlight the unfairness of property ownership. Ironically, Monopoly has become the world’s best-selling board game. 275 million copies of the game have sold, with more than $30 billion worth of Monopoly money printed each year, and each game coming with $20,580. Rumor has it that Mr. Monopoly, himself, a.k.a Rich Uncle Pennybags is based on none other than J.P. Morgan.  To mark the momentous occasion, Monopoly has come out with its latest version dubbed “Here and Now.” Cities all over the world voted for their picks to make it onto newest board. In case you were wondering, Illinois Avenue, B&O Railroad and the “GO” space are the three most frequently “landed-on” spaces.  Now if only Atlantic City, whose street names can be found on Monopoly board games, can channel some of Monopoly’s success for itself, it might be able to pull itself up from all its recent economic struggles.

GDY mate…

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Chances are, if you have a domain name, you went through GoDaddy.com to buy it. The company, which also does web-hosting, wants to make its Wall Street IPO and is looking to raise $418 million with a valuation around $2.87 billion. Just three years ago GoDaddy.com was picked up by KKR and Silver Lake Management and now, here they are looking to offer up 22 million shares for about $17 – $19 a pop.  The company, which currently handles about 20% of the world’s domain names, has approximately 12.7 million customers and took in $1.39 billion for 2014. That was a hefty a 23% increase over 2013. Look for its ticker symbol one day: “GDY.” Catchy, huh?

Morgan Stanley Finally Owns Up to All the Trouble It Caused; It’s a Darn Claim Unemployment Filings Are Up; Sears is Losing It

It was just a matter of time…

Image courtesy of  dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Morgan Stanley is taking a bit of a beating today on Wall Street now that it has finally finally settled with the Department of Justice over its shady little role leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Morgan Stanley reached a deal with the DOJ  that’ll have the bank paying $2.6 billion to get Uncle Sam off its back.  Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ will graciously end their probe into whether Morgan Stanley duped investors by telling them how very great their home loans were when in fact, they were anything but. This settlement is sure to put a major dent in MorganStanley’s 2014 profits. By major, I mean it’ll eat up nearly 50% of what MorganStanley got to take home in 2014. It officially lands Morgan Stanley on that illustrious list of banks who also had to shell out billion dollar settlements to the DOJ for their smarmy actions leading up to and during the 2008 financial crisis, including  – but not limited to –  Bank of America who reigns the top spot with a $16.7 billion payout. It’s followed by JPMorgan Chase which holds the number two spot for its $13 billion settlement. Citigroup rounds out the group with a $7 billion settlement.

Don’t stake this claim… 

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The number of people filing jobless claims went up. Not down. But up. The number climbed to 313,000 people instead of a projected 290,000. While the news is a bit of drag, economists  – who presumably know a thing or two  – are telling us that we can’t work ourselves up into a collective panic over one month’s lousy numbers. At least for now, anyway. First, the number of people filing those claims is still relatively close to the 300,000 mark. If it were way past that number, then yeah, having a fiscal freak out might be considered almost acceptable. Two, the labor market’s rockin’, sort of, and hiring is strong, which brings us to reason number three. Because hiring is strong, wages are actually going up. Walmart, TJ Maxx, Gap…the list goes on as to how many retailers are raising its employees’ wages. All these factors allow us to almost ignore this fiscal hiccup. However, leave it to Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to remind us that, “wage growth remains sluggish” and that there’s always room for improvement.  You don’t say.

Loser…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sears isn’t having a very good year. Actually it hasn’t had a good year in…well, many many years. It just reported its fourth straight year of losses with this quarter losing $159 million and $1.50 per share. Incidentally, that figure is not nearly as dismal as last year’s $358 million fourth quarter loss. So you see, there is a bright side. Sort of. Run by the The Hoffman Estates, which also runs Kmart, the company has tried just about everything to help the ailing retailer reverse its downward financial spiral. From store closures to slashing inventory, the retailer has tried countless ways to cut costs. The company closed over 230 stores in 2014 and today has over 1,700 stores, which sounds impressive. But you know what’s more impressive? The over 3,500 stores the company had five years ago. The latest plan is to spin off between 200-300 stores into a REIT, which stands for Real Estate investment trust, by the way. The idea is apparently going to allow the failing company to pick up some $2 billion and help turn the fiscal tide. But if you want to know how exactly that works you’re on your own.

The White House Comes After Wall Street Advisors; January’s Frigid Housing Numbers; Target’s New Shipping Policy Gives Cause to Shop

Hard sell…

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The White House is coming after Wall Street, in particular, financial advisors who might be a little too loose with money saved diligently by America’s middle class. President Obama wants the Labor Department to revamp its rules ensuring that retirement advisors put clients’ fiscal needs before their own bank accounts by putting the kibosh on hidden fees and conflicts of interest. Currently, investment advisors have this practice of suggesting expensive products to their clients that could at best be categorized as “suitable”  – but not “ideal.” In fact, these “suitable” investment products could cost a retiree five years worth of savings. Investment advisors would actually now be required to follow, dare I say it – a “fiduciary standard.” Many Republicans and financial firms, not to mention Republicans who work in financial firms, are just not that into this whole new idea of revamping the rules for two reasons that aren’t likely to elicit any sympathy: 1. They’re worried a new system will considerably shrink all the money they make in compensation fees and 2. They think the current system works just fine. However, the current system, according to White House, anyway, says it has cost unsuspecting working middle-class families an estimated $17 billion a year.  So who is this system working for, exactly? Hmmm.

Bring it home…

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhoos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhoos.net

The number of existing homes that sold in January was 4.82 million. In case you were ready to celebrate…don’t. Those numbers suck. They suck because it’s a 4.9% drop from December and is at the lowest rate it has been in nine months. Nine months ago, (which by the way,  was May  – in case you didn’t feel like doing the math) saw 4.9 million homes sold. The National Association of Realtors provided us with these disappointing figures but all is not lost because, as it turns out, this 4.82 million figure is still 3.2% higher than it was a year ago. Naturally it wouldn’t be right if much of the blame didn’t go to Mother Nature who, it seems, loves nothing more than setting the bitter wintry stage for gloomy fiscal numbers. But with low interest rates and strong jobs numbers, here’s hoping spring will kick winter’s fiscal butt.

Aw’ ship…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Target has graciously decided to offer free shipping for online orders on just a $25 minimum purchase – with no exclusions, allegedly. Be still my beating consumer heart. If you recall – as I certainly do – Target was offering “free shipping” with a minimum $50 order. The retailer was inspired by the success it had when it offered free holiday season shipping through December 20, this past holiday season. It was an effort to compete with the slew of online retailers, but it payed off in more ways than one.  The company set new sales records for Thanksgiving and cyber-Monday and saw 60% of its website traffic come from mobile users. Once upon a time Amazon also offered free shipping with a $25 minimum purchase but alas, its investors got their way and Amazon was forced to up its minimum to $35. In the meantime, Walmart, while raising its minimum wage, has yet to change their free shipping policy, which offers the perk on only certain “eligible orders,” which seems a little too open to interpretation, as far as I’m concerned. Target also has big gigantic plans to open online fulfillment centers and if that doesn’t bode a Target/Amazon smack down then I don’t know what does. Target’s inventive digital app has also been doing particularly well in the popularity contest picking up a couple new million users and shooting past that pesky $1 billion promo sales mark.

 

Raise Praise for Walmart ; Pinterest Tries to Double Up; Priceline’s Beamed Up Earnings

You raise me up…

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of             nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s a good day to be a Walmart employee. No, seriously. It is. The gargantuan retailer just announced it’ll be raising the salaries of some 500,000 of its hardworking employees raising to about $1.75 more than the Federal minimum wage. Full-time employees will go from an average of $12.85 an hour to about $13 per hour. Part-timers will see their paychecks go up to $10 per hour from the average $9.50 they make now. The pay-raise fun begins in April and CEO Doug McMillon says it’s all part of a master plan to improve customer service, employee morale, etc. Those are all nice and pleasant things, of course, but no doubt Walmart is really hoping it will also lead to higher sales and profit. Walmart figures higher pay will help attract and retain employees that know the value of good customer service. And if it improves its somewhat tarnished reputation for its lousy pay practices in the process then why not?  So how bad could their pay practices have been that the company is implementing this change? Well, a majority of its employees’ salaries were so low that, all together, they were eligible to receive millions – I repeat, millions – of dollars in public benefits.  This initiative will cost Walmart about $1 billion, but hey, you’re worth it.

 In the land of unicorns…

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vectorolie/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The next social media darling that may be headed off to the wonderful, not-so-mystical land of Silicon Valley “unicorns” is Pinterest. By “unicorns,” I am referring to billion dollar startups, a term thoughtfully coined by Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee. But apparently these “unicorns” are turning out to be a bit more ubiquitous than previously thought as Pinterest is but among a larger group of “unicorns” and “decacorns” and “super-unicorns”…but I digress. Founded by CEO Ben Silbermann, Pinterest graciously allows users to “pin” images of all kinds of stuff that appeals to them on their boards, thereby bringing light and joy to the world. And now Pinterest is said to be adding a “buy” button. That ought to bring even more light and joy. Adding e-commerce into the social media start-up picture tends to prove lucrative on so many levels. Pinterest is rumored to be raising funds to the tune of $500 million. Any takers? This new round of funding would put the company in the $11 billion valuation stratosphere, nearly doubling its $5 billion valuation it had back in May.

But what does this mean for Captain Kirk?

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Priceline, the company shilled by the inimitable William Shatner, beat Wall Street estimates for its fourth quarter earnings taking in almost $452 million with adjusted earnings at $10.85 per share. Well beam me up on those numbers, Scottie, because analysts only expected Priceline to score $10.05 per share. Those impressive digits were helped by growth from hotel and car rental reservations. Revenues were $1.84 billion and, once again, those analysts predicted the online travel booking service would only rake in $1.8 billion. Naturally, shares of Priceline took a joyous upswing in the news and clearly sending the message to Wall Street that the Orbitz-Expedia deal didn’t seem to have any adverse affects on the company. Well, not yet, anyway. If you’re in the market for some shares of Priceline, it’ll only set you back about $1,200.00…per share.

South Korea Puts Brakes on Über With Indictment; Walmart Raises Spirits and Paychecks; Jolly Jobless Claims Numbers

U-bummer….

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In what is yet another roadblock in the tech saga we call Über, South Korea has now entered the fray. Except this time there’s a twist because South Korea actually indicted Über CEO Travis Kalanick along with his local Korean business partner MK Korea Co. instead of just ceasing operations of the ride-sharing app, like all the other locales have been doing.  And like all the other countries, states and cities that have been putting the kibosh on the service, South Korean officials argue that Über is violating transportation law  – only this time, by allegedly using rental cars to run its business, apparently a major no-no in those parts. This latest snarl only adds to Über’s growing list of infractions, lawsuits, infringements, etc. The penalty for this latest hiccup, assuming Kalanick and his business partner are found guilty, is up to two years in prison or an $18,000 fine. Ironically, that $1.2 billion Über just got to help expand into Asia ought to help cover that fine, not to mention the legal expenses that are about to mount in China, where law enforcement officials raided an Über “training” facility. But at least back in the states things are looking up in Portland, Oregon, sort of. Even though Über operations were almost immediately halted after its launch there, the company was told to sit tight for three months while the city revamps its taxi rules, presumably to allow Über to fit right in.

And to all a good raise…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over 1.3 million Walmart employees can expect a few more dollars in their paychecks, provided they are among the retailer’s minimum-waged. The biggest private employer in the US will be giving wage increases in nearly a third of its stores, located in 21 states, effective January 1, to comply with new federal guidelines. The three lowest pay grades, including cashiers, cart pushers and maintenance workers will now be combined into one base-level and the gap between the premium paid for higher-skilled workers and the minimum wage will become that much smaller. Walmart has taken a lot of slack for the low wages it has been known to pay and not for nothing as low-paid Walmart employees already collect $2.66 billion annually in government assistance.

Jolly jobless numbers…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While the previously-owned housing market provided us with a very unwelcome and December buzz-killing decrease, the drop in the number of jobless claims filed almost makes up for that. In fact, 9,000 less people filed applications for jobless claims, bringing the total to 280,000 applicants –  making it the lowest number in seven weeks. Not only are employers not firing but they are hiring – even adding 321,000 jobs to the labor force. If that’s not merry, then I don’t know what is. By the way, a number under 300,000 is cause for celebration.  So take that, previously owned housing market! What this means for you, me and your neighbors who outdid you with their Christmas lights display is that the job market and the economy are both steadily improving. So let us all thank the Labor Department for doing its part to shame those housing numbers and giving us some good fiscal cheer.