Aetna Becomes Obamacare Dropout; Warren Buffet Takes a Big Bite Out of (the) Apple; TJX: Don’t Discount the Discounter

See ya!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case it wasn’t entirely clear how some big insurance companies feel about Obamacare, perhaps Aetna might shed some light for you. The healthcare insurer is dropping out of the exchange in 69% of its counties. It’s dropping out of 11 of 15 states after eating $200 million in pre-tax losses during its 2Q. Of the 838,000 Affordable Care Act policies it has, 20% will be adversely affected. Aetna, which is the nation’s third largest insurer, isn’t the first health insurance company to do this. United Healthcare Group already dropped out of Obamacare exchanges and as did Kaiser, with more expected to follow. Whichever side you fall on in terms of the Obamacare debate matters not. It’s arithmetic that’s at play here. Aetna argues that they were losing big money to make the Obamacare policies work. Not enough healthy people were signing up and too many unhealthy people were. The premiums that healthy folks pay were/are intended to offset the large cost of the the unhealthy. Unfortunatey, things didn’t work out that way. The Departement of Health and Human Services was supposed to figure out ways to fix that issue. While its says it did, insurers say it didn’t – or at least, not enough. If you’re really bent on having Aetna insure you and your state’s just been dropped by it, you might want to consider moving to Delaware, Iowa, Nebraska and Virginia. Those states will still be offering policies from Aetna in 2017. Well, at least for now they will be.

Well, if Warren Buffet’s Doing it…

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Berkshire Hathaway’s very own oracle is taking a much bigger chunk out of the not-so-proverbial apple – the one based in Cupertino, that is. Warren Buffet upped his stake in the tech company by a substantial 55%. That’s in direct contrast to his fellow billionaire’s recent actions. George Soros just chucked his Apple stake out the window over concerns in China, or rather concerns about China’s policies regarding the iPhone maker. However, there’s a chance he’ll re-invest down the road. Activist investor billionaire Carl Icahn also ditched his Apple shares back in June. When he did this, shares of Apple had taken a slight dip, at which point Warren Buffet swooped in and increased his stake. Now his total stake of 15. 2 million shares is valued at about $1.7 billion. Shares of Apple, by the way, are up 14% since June. Incidentally, Wal-Mart didn’t fare so well as far as Berkshire Hathaway’s portfolio is concerned. The Oracle of Omaha cut Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in the world’s largest retailer by 27%, keeping it at just over 40.2 million shares. But Warren Buffet has had Wal-Mart in its portfolio a decade now and while his stake might be reduced, it’s probably still not going anywhere. For now. Curious what else Berkshire Hathaway has sitting in its very lucrative portfolio? Coca Cola, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Heinz, Wells Fargo…to name but a few.

Who you calling off-price?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Macy’s and friends might be bemoaning the state of the retail landscape. But they won’t get much sympathy from discount retailers T.J. Maxx. Its parent company TJX Cos came out with its second quarter sales results that had the retailer beating predictions.  But all was not perfect from the company that also owns Marshall’s and HomeGoods. It put out a bit of a bleaker picture for its third quarter that caused shares to fall today, despite its stellar performance.  In all fairness, that depressing and most unimpressive outlook is primarily because TJX Cos is waging war against a strong dollar. Besides, the company is giving out wage increases, so its hard to be mad at a company whose fiscal prowess is taking a hit for a very noble cause. There is even a silver lining – the company is turning out to be a big draw, luring shoppers away from malls with its deeply discounted merchandise on major name brands. Profit for TJX Cos was $562.2 million with 84 cents added to shares, while analysts only predicted 80 cents per share.  A year ago at this time, the company picked up $549.3 million with 80 cents added to shares. The stock is up 17% since January.

 

Google’d: Big Search Engine News; How Crude: Dow Gets a Pick-me Up From Oil and Omaha; Postally Spent

If you google alphabet…

Image courtesy of  blackzheep/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of blackzheep/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you missed it, there’s a new head honcho at Google. Okay, maybe not as head honcho-y as Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but Sundar Pichai just became the new CEO of Google and now holds the keys to that very magical kingdom. There is also a little bit of restructuring going on at the almighty tech company. Okay. A lot. You see, Google has now become a subsidiary of a new publicly traded company called Alphabet Inc. – which will soon be trading under that name. Brin and Page are at the top of that executive food chain and, no doubt, always will be. Pichai is no rookie, though. He’s been at Google for well over a decade and his last role was as head of Android. So he’ll probably settle into his new digs quite comfortably. Apparently, Wall Street likes the new arrangements too. Google’s stock surged 6% on the news.

Take a dow…

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A big shout out goes to Warren Buffet today, who together with rebounding oil prices, got the dow to shake off a fiscally ugly seven day slump. First, crude finally climbed 2% to a respectable $44.74 a barrel after falling below a very unflattering $44 a barrel on Friday. Then the Oracle of Omaha reminded the world why Berkshire Hathaway is, in fact, the happiest place on earth (sorry Mickey) when his company announced a $37 billion deal to buy Precision Castparts. The company was purchased at a 20% premium, but no doubt worth every…billion. Precision Castparts took in $10 billion in sales with a $1.5 billion profit in 2014.

Going postal…

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It used to be that postal workers were unstoppable in their pursuit of mail delivery. As the saying goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” Noticeably absent from this list is Congress, which just might be the one thing that could put a crimp in those mail deliveries. You see, the United States Postal Service just announced its quarterly earnings. It lost $586 million. But, that was still a major improvement over last year at this time when the agency took a $1.5 billion hit. Ouch. April-June, however, typically sees lower revenues, so that figure wasn’t totally alarming. Part of the reason why USPS didn’t lose as much is because of how the interest rates that are tied into worker compensation expenses. Go interest rates! Now let’s get back to Congress. Strangely enough, even though the USPS doesn’t receive any tax dollars, the agency is still under congressional control. Under that congressional control we find the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. Say that five times fast. The “Act” stipulates that USPS must pay between $5.4 billion and $5.7 billion toward future retiree health benefit costs. Until 2016. Unfortunately for the USPS, there have been a lot of changes in the mail and package delivery industry and the agency is facing stiff competition, including from many start-ups. Congress has yet to acknowledge these shifting postal tides and draft new legislation that would tweak that multi-billion requirement to a more attainable fiscal goal. Until that happens…well, it’s Congress so don’t hold your breath.

McDonald’s Turnaround Plan Needs Salt; Warren Buffet Likes His Sugar; Chevy Volt Wants to Electrify

Would you like to supersize that?

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook finally revealed to all who were maybe mildly interested about his big plan is to steer McDonald’s back towards fiscal awesomeness, all in the course of a 23 minute video. The world’s biggest burger chain wants to re-franchise 3,500 of its stores. Because franchising offers “stable and predictable cash flow” from collecting fees, it will supposedly save the company about $300 million a year.  And who doesn’t like saving $300 million. Then, Easterbrook wants to make the company’s corporate structure and bureaucracy less “cumbersome” by dividing the company up into four neat little parts. Well, maybe not little. But certainly neater.  The first part is all about U.S. stores. International markets like, Australia and the U.K make up part number two. The third part is labeled high growth markets  – think China and Russia. Then, all those other countries in the world make up the fourth group.  Of course, no master revival plan would be complete without incorporating a customer-focused approach and the ever-menacing prospect of…accountability. But hey whatever works. And something needs to after the company posted a 2.3% drop in sales and revenue that was way too short of its target. Despite detailing this new plan Mc Donald’s couldn’t get Wall Street excited enough to send shares up, even a little.

Enjoy a Coke with Warren Buffet…

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In case you couldn’t make it to the the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting this weekend, also known as Woodstock for Capitalists, here are but a few of the pearls from that auspicious event. Wells Fargo, Coke, IBM and AmEx rock, at least according to the Oracle of Omaha. Mr. Buffet clearly knows a thing or two of what he speaks since his company has a market value of a staggering $350 billion. When he discussed Coca Cola and the $16 billion stake his company owns in it, the debate about the adverse health effects of sugar didn’t seem to concern him. He feels that people enjoy Coke and thus, it apparently makes them happy. Unlike Whole Foods, which he said, “I don’t see smiles on the faces of people at Whole Foods.” No doubt Whole Foods was not happy about that comment. He was also asked about his involvement with 3G Capital with whom he is now buying Kraft Foods. People have taken issue with 3G over its practice of buying companies and then laying off many of its employees. Mr. Buffet, however, said, “I don’t know of any company that has a policy that says we’re going to have a lot more people than they need.”  How charming. As for naming a successor, well, he didn’t.

Low-voltage…

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though gas prices are pretty low, making gas-guzzling SUV’s that much more appealing, that’s not stopping car companies, like GM, from parading out its latest eco-friendly models. The 2016 Chevy Volt model is making its debut and what is supposed to be so electrifying about it is that it’ll be around $1,500 less than the 2015 model. It’ll also get 30% more mileage from a single charge than the 2015 model. It’s a bit redesigned and there’s even a $7,500 federal income tax credit. But to be fair, it’s not a fully electric vehicle because if you find yourself coasting along  the highway – or any road, for that matter – and the battery juice runs out, the Volt becomes just another regular gas guzzler.  If that doesn’t bother you – and why should it – then consider that Chevy is offering 0% financing for 72 months for qualified buyers. Unqualified buyers should take the bus. California’s even offering a $1,500 rebate which pretty much means that GM doesn’t think there’s going to be a waiting list for this particular automobile. Because let’s face it, a Tesla it’s not.

Kraft Ketch-es Up; Amazon Wants FAA to Start Droning Around; Lumber Liquidators’ Slight Rebound

Ketchin’ Up…

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Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

HJ Heinz, as in, ketchup is teaming up with Kraft foods, as in Mac & Cheese and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, to become the world’s fifth largest food and beverage company. And just who is behind this master plan for food domination? None other than everybody’s favorite (and only) Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet – well, Berkshire Hathaway really, and Brazilian Venture Capital firm 3G. The two entities are throwing $10 billion at the deal, which seems like a relative bargain since the merger is expected to generate $28 billion in annual revenue.  Of course, federal regulators still need to give their seal of approval, along with Kraft shareholders. But considering that the stock went up a whopping 32% on the news I’m guessing they won’t mind. Plus, if you are one of the lucky shareholders, then look out for a cash dividend of $16.50 per share, not to mention a 49% stake in the new venture.

 Droning on and on…

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Amazon is taking on the FAA, telling them they lack the “impetus” to develop drone policies in a timely manner – said in the nicest possible way, of course. The e-commerce giant wants the agency to move quicker on issuing permits for drone testing. Like a lot quicker. Like before the model drones Amazon plans to use for its Prime Air Delivery Service become obsolete. Oops. Too late. Even Senator Cory Booker agreed with Amazon saying that if the FAA had been around during the time of the Wright Brothers, then commercial flying would have literally never taken flight. Then there are all those restrictions associated with the testing. For instance, drones can’t fly higher than 400 feet, and in some cases 200 feet, and the drones must also always be in view of the pilot. Where’s the fun in that? Amazon, and several other companies are wondering why it takes so long for the U.S., on average, six months longer to issue these permits when in other countries it takes about 1-2 months?  The drone industry is also irritated by it all seeing as how drone delivery is apparently way more economical, faster and cheaper with the added bonus of less traffic and pollution? Who doesn’t like that? But to be fair, the FAA has some not-so-minor concerns about the potential for drones to collide with commercial carriers carrying passengers. Not to mention the potential loss of link between a drone pilot and the drone.

Lumbering on…

Image courtesy of  Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lumber Liquidators stock went up today by 8%, which actually came as somewhat of a surprise since the stock is down 59% for the year after a scathing “60 Minutes” report that found high levels of formaldehyde in its laminate flooring from China. The reason for its little upswing is presumably because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has entered the fray by launching a federal investigation into the claims, also involving the EPA, CDC and Federal Trade Commission. Lumber Liquidators is said to be fully cooperating in the investigation. No kidding. But don’t bother holding your breath for results – they won’t be in for several months. Lumber Liquidators, by the way, says “60 Minutes” used a test that is considered unreliable, by Lumber Liquidators standards anyways. The company, which has 350 locations throughout the United States, has graciously offered to come test the flooring in your home. If high levels of formaldehyde are found to be present, then rest assured…Lumber Liquidators will do more testing. If those tests keep coming back positive then yeah, they’ll finally agree to replace the questionable, carcinogenic flooring.

Are You There Shareholders? It’s Me, Warren (2015); Forbes’ Magazine Names the A-Listers; Costco: AmEx Out, Visa and Citi In

Best Regards, Warren…

Image courtesy of  Boians Cho Joo Young/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Warren Buffet’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders arrived over the weekend, regaling us –  I meant them – with so many insights and wisdom about the economy and the ways of the investment Samurai. Among the many pearls, Mr. Buffet wanted to let folks know that “America’s best days lie ahead.” Things might have been a bit shaky the last few years, but darn be the naysayers  and things can and will only get better. Mr. Buffet also wished to remind people that “Market forecasters will fill your ear but will never fill your wallet.” Aw, Warren. There’s something very moving about the way the Oracle of Omaha advises people that all these financial experts surrounding us are good for nothing. He also offered some poetic words regarding his failed investment in British supermarket chain, Tesco: “In the world of business, bad news often surfaces serially: You see a cockroach in your kitchen; as the days go by, you meet his relatives.” The venture ultimately cost him a whopping $400 million and the Oracle attributes the loss, to among other things, not being decisive and fast enough about pulling out of the investment. Meanwhile, during an interview on CNBC, Warren Buffet said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) should be “less angry and demonizing” and should be more open to compromise. Ouch. I guess those two won’t be hanging out together anytime soon.

Speaking of Warren…

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Omaha’s most famous resident made it to the number 3 spot on Forbes’ list of billionaires. Microsoft’s Bill Gates claims the top spot – again –  with a net worth of $79.2 billion while Mexico’s Carlos Helu Slim comes in for second. There are 1,826 billionaires on the list who have a combined total net worth of $7.05 trillion. However, the average net worth of the billionaires is actually down by $60 million this year to $3.86 billion. I know, how sad.  Seventy-one of those billionaires are breaking onto the list of the very first time. Among those first-timers is basketball great Michael Jordan who makes his big billionaire list debut this year with a little help from having increased his ownership stake in the Charlotte Hornets. But his restaurants, deals with Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, etc…allow him to claim the 1,741st spot with a net worth of about $1 billion. Forty-six of the billionaires are under the age of 40 with Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel having the distinction of being the youngest billionaire on the list.

Well hello, pardner…

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Image courtesy of stock images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Club goers rejoice! Costco has officially entered into agreements with Citigroup and Visa to become the wholesaler’s partner in credit. In the meantime, the retailer is bidding a not-so-fond farewell to American Express, who for the last 16 years had an exclusive deal with the chain. Citigroup will be putting out a Costco/Citi credit card with perks and generous rewards aplenty, in keeping with the Costco spirit, of course. Unfortunately, Costco shoppers must wait until April of 2016 to whip out the new plastic. However, debit cards know no bounds – or labels – and those will continue to be warmly accepted regardless of the issuer, at Costco’s 674 warehouses worldwide. And while AmEx is expecting to take some type of beating on Wall Street for the next two years, shares of Visa hit an all-time high today over this very exciting fiscal news.

Twitter Gets Schooled at MIT; Warren Buffet, Car Salesman?!; Hooray for Shorter Lines at the Unemployment Office

Twi-gifted…

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

MIT got a nice little gift from Twitter recently. Well, maybe little isn’t the right word for the $10 million dollars that the social media company is giving to one of the world’s most important academic institutions. The money is to be used for the advancement of…wait for it…social network research. The Laboratory for Social Machines, or LSM for those in the know, housed at MIT’s Media Lab, will seek to explore how people use social media networks and figure out new beneficial ways to use these tools. The researchers will have access and get to slog through every single archived tweet and real-time tweets too. Lucky them. The research should take about five years and will be headed by Twitter’s very own media scientist, Deb Roy, who also conveniently happens to be an associate professor at this extremely distinguished media lab. Roy hopes to, among other things, find ways to “…act on pressing societal problems.” How very useful.

Vroom vroom…

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Image courtesy of suphakit73/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Oracle of Omaha has welcomed yet another new company into the exclusive and pricey Berkshire Hathaway fold. This time, the lucky seller is the Van Tuyl Group. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, the Van Tuyl group just happens to be the largest privately-owned auto-dealership in all the land, with 78 locations and revenues in the $8 billion range. No word yet on how much Warren Buffet paid for his latest acquisition. Naturally, shares of Berkshire Hathaway went up on the news (seriously, do they ever go down?) of the purchase. By the way, if you’d care to purchase some Berkshire Hathaway stock, it’ll only set you back about $206,000 – per share.

Stake your claim…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

And in keeping with the spirit of yesterday’s exciting and gripping news from ADP about all that job growth, the Labor Department came out with its latest report that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits dropped by 8,000. Which is just what I (and by “I,” I do mean those very intelligent economic experts) suspected would happen. Oh, wait a minute…our very intelligent experts actually predicted that the number of applicants for jobless claims would rise. Whoops. Whatever. The number of claims being filed haven’t been this low since June of 2006, way before that odious Great Recession began to wreak havoc on our fiscal sensibilities. By the way, expect President Obama to take some (maybe more) credit for those promising numbers (whether you agree with that assessment, or not).

Forbes-ulous 400; International (FREE) Coffee Day; Getting Fee’d On

Rank’d…

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of biosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forbes 33rd Annual Forbes 400 rankings of 2014 has at last descended upon us to rub our noses in it. The combined wealth of the lucky 400 who made the list totals a staggering $2.29 trillion (note the “t”). For his 21st straight year in a row, Bill Gates leads the pack with $81 billion in his bank account. Warren Buffet is nipping at his heels in the number two spot with only $67 billion. Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg fills in the #11 spot. As for the rookies, there’s WhatsApp’s Jan Koum rounding out the #62 spot and Uber Technologies very own Travis Kalanick who is comfortably perched at the #190 spot. At just thirty years old, Elizabeth Holmes is the youngest of the 47 women on the list at #110. She is the founder of a company called Theranos which apparently does something super complicated and impressive in blood testing. We’ll leave it at that. And in case you were wondering -and it’s okay of you weren’t – Oprah Winfrey comes in at the #190 spot. You can catch up on your billionaire rankings  at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes-400?

 Buzzzzzz…

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today, September 29, marks International Coffee Day. And no I did not make that up. If you don’t believe me you can just walk in to your local Dunkin’ Donuts and pick up you FREE MEDIUM-sized cup of joe in honor of the momentous. Incidentally, Dunkin’ Donuts is eagerly touting its latest and greatest dark roast. If you’re feeling frisky, then whip out just a dollar and get yourself a mocha or latte. The idea behind International Coffee Day is to promote awareness for free-trade coffee and raise awareness about coffee growers around the world. Hey, works for me. McDonalds and Krispy Kreme, among others, are also offering some java gratis. But you might want to skip Starbucks today as it’s only offering samples – until 12:00. Whatever.

Fee’d…

Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just in case you weren’t paying attention, penalties for using ATM’s NOT associated with your bank have very rudely risen by 5% over this past year and more than 20% in the last five years. The average fee has stealthily climbed to $4.35 per transaction. There are actually two fees involved – one from your bank, punishing you for being so inconsiderate as to dare use another’s ATM. The other fee comes from the owner of the ATM from whose coffers you, once again, so inconsiderately, dared to withdraw funds. The average penalty for overdraft fees also increased to $32.75 per transaction. Following the 2008 financial crisis, banks had to follow a few new rules and regulations that put limits for what they could and could not penalize you. But, of course, they made up for it by making sure those penalties for which they could charge you went up. A lot. If these fees are really getting to you, check out credit unions, smaller local banks and online banks which tend to have less fees – and less (or no) strings attached.