That’s All Folks: Yahoo Rides Off Into the Sunset; Uber Drama; Trump’s Attempts at Flattery; It’s Raining Tacos and Cheesecake Today

And that’s a wrap…

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Sometimes goodbyes are hard and sometimes goodbyes are worth $23 million. At least that’s the case for Marissa Mayer, who will be collecting that much cash now that Verizon’s $4.5 billion acquisition of Yahoo is a done deal. Gosh, imagine what she’d be collecting if she were asked to stay on board. In any case, Yahoo will now melt into the AOL vortex and together they will morph in a new entity profoundly named Oath. However, once that happens, over 2,000 employees can expect to kiss their jobs goodbye. The last itty bitty remaining pieces of Yahoo will be named Altaba in homage to the fact that it is primarily a holding company for Yahoo’s sizable stake in the Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.

Other highlights from today…

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  • It’s official: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick needs to compose his out-of-office reply. A management group will be established to run the show in his absence and when he returns he’ll be stripped of some of his duties. As for his return date, that is yet to be determined. It appears that he wont be missed that much. In the meantime, Uber now needs to come up with an effective system to tackle HR complaints. That might take awhile seeing as how the company is pretty much starting from scratch in that area.
  • In a meeting with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, President Trump said to her that he thinks she’s a “low-interest person” like himself. Which is ironic since during his campaign he had plenty of criticism for the Fed because it kept those rates low. He also said he “likes her” and “respects her” which could mean anything and nothing when you’re President Donald Trump. Naturally, the Fed declined to comment, all while rumors swirl that it is expected to raise short-term interest rates for the fourth time in two years.
  • Go out and get yourself a free taco today. A Doritos Locos Taco, to be more specific. It’s on the house. At least at Taco Bell. The fast-food chain is being generous because the Golden State Warriors “stole” game 3 from the Cleveland Cavs. Naturally, it’s all part of a promotion, in this case the one that goes “Steal a Game, Steal a Taco.” Whatever. It’s free food.
  • Shares of Cheesecake Factory took a beating today because of Mother Nature. No, really. Apparently, because of some bad weather, customers near locations in the East and Midwest couldn’t enjoy enough “patio time” whilst eating copious amounts of cheesecake, thereby negatively affecting sales. And just like you, the analysts didn’t buy that excuse either.

Uh Oh Canada: Trump Starts Up With Our Neighbors to the North; Marissa Mayer Walks Away Golden; Nasdaq Yowza!

Good Tariffs don’t make good neighbors…

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As if things weren’t awkward enough between the President and Mexico, now it’s the U.S.’s relations with Canada that are getting the Trump treatment. This time it’s Canada’s lumber industry that’s getting caught up in the import debate as the President’s plan calls for a tariff of up to 24% on Canada’s lumber products. Canadian lumber companies are pretty ticked off and Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is itching to fight back. Just how remains to be seen. In case you didn’t know, Canada is the world’s largest soft-wood lumber exporter and the U.S. is its biggest customer, reportedly importing $6 billion worth of the resource just in 2016. But here’s where things get dicey, well for the U.S. anyway – shares of home-building companies took a very unwelcome dive on the soft-lumber dispute, as Wall Street realized raw materials could get a whole a lot pricier. That will likely end up leading to a very unpleasant domino effect on other related industries. If you’re looking to buy a home, take note that this Canada lumber is issue is sending home prices up as well. Incidentally, Canada is going to stop importing U.S. dairy products, as a sort of retaliatory action. Sort of. But basically, this means dairy farmers are getting screwed here too. And don’t you hate when that happens? On the flip side, U.S. lumber producers said that cheap lumber imports from Canada, which are they say are unfairly subsidized by the Canadian government, have put a major crimp in their business and these tariffs will give the domestic lumber industry a much needed reboot.

What color is your parachute?

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Yahoo might have gone bust but Marissa Mayer will be walking away from the entity with $186 million lining her pockets. That’s even after Verizon agreed to buy the  beleaguered company. She’s sitting on 4.5 million shares of the failed internet company and she’ll get that substantial wad of cash once she pays to exercise her options. That $186 million is based on Monday’s closing price, in case you were wondering, and while Mayer may not have had the best run at Yahoo, the stock still tripled during her five-year CEO stint there. And as Verizon plunks down $4.5 billion for Yahoo, Mayer will take in another $3 million as part of her golden parachute. That’s besides the fact that last year she lost out on her bonus following the massive data security breaches that affected one billion Yahoo accounts.

Making a break for it…

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The Nasdaq broke the 6000 mark with a lot of help from big corporate gains and, believe it or not, even President Donald Trump. That’s because the President has big “tax reform and reduction” plans which involve reducing the United States’ onerous corporate tax rate from a whopping 35% to a more corporation-friendly, and globally competitive, 15%. Plans like that could mean a big boost all-around on Wall Street. Companies including Apple, Microsoft and McDonald’s, to name a few, reported impressive gains, sending the Nasdaq all the way up to 6034.74. If you’re finding Trump’s contribution hard to swallow, consider that the result of France’s Presidential election also factored into that 6000 point breakthrough. French Presidential Candidate Emanuel Macron’s first-round victory helped matters, probably because of his centrist politics, which apparently Wall Street digs. It wasn’t since March 7, 2000, that the Nasdaq broke the 5,000 barrier. But alas, that remains nothing but a very distant memory.  The Nasdaq, incidentally, is up over 10% since the beginning of the year and up way over 20% in the last twelve months.

Oh Nyet You Didn’t!: Yahoo Cyber Attacks Courtesy of Russia; Homebuilders Are Feeling Fine; The Fed (Finally) Comes Through With Rate Hike

Busted…

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There is a first time for everything and today marks the first time that Russian officials were officially busted by U.S. federal prosecutors for cyber attacks. These officials, who are actually Russian officers, allegedly paid other hackers to break into Yahoo to steal information from hundreds of millions of users. So clearly, the officials weren’t the talent behind the scheme. Of the six people charged in the attacks, one of them is a hacker named Alexsey Belan, who had the dubious distinction of being ranked the FBI’s numero uno most wanted cyber-criminal for three years.  But don’t expect any swift justice. While one of the alleged perps was picked up in Canada and headed here to await his fate, the Russian intelligence officers are staying put and probably living large seeing as how there is no extradition in place between Russia and the United States. Among the numerous charges outlined are economic espionage and computer hacking, to name just a few. The attacks, which were revealed last September, were the ones that caused the search engine giant to drop its selling price to Verizon by $350 million. According to the indictment, it appears the attacks were state-sponsored, which has me wondering if things will now be awkward between Presidents Trump and Putin.

Exuding confidence…

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The magic number is 71. No really. It is. At least if you’re looking at the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market index.  That means that homebuilder confidence is very high. Very. To put this number in perspective, anything above the number 50 is good. In March of 2016, that number was 58. So yeah, confidence abounds this year. Sure, the usual reasons are being given, including the fact that we are entering the season that homebuilders love, low mortgage rates and a solid labor market. But there’s another reason: President Trump. Yep. It appears he has begun rolling back on regulations, some of which are environmental, and that’s got homebuilders kicking up their heels in joy since they attribute 25% of the cost of homes to regulations. The regulation currently being rolled back is the Clean Water Rule, a rule that many builders call “burdensome” and which has nothing to do with putting dirty water into homes, I assure you.  Homebuilders see this rollback as a sign that even further de-regulation is in the wings, which would make home-building easier and quicker. And that is making builders positively giddy. And confident, of course.

Done deal…

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It’s official. The fed raised the benchmark lending rate by a quarter of a point. But that’s not the only big news. We are told to expect two more rate increases this year, which is especially weird since this is just the third rate hike in over a year. You may not feel the interest rate change now. And you may not feel it at all. But if you comb over your paperworks, from mortgages to credit cards to bank statements,  then you’ll notice the difference, albeit a subtle one. For now.  So subtle in fact that rates are still at historic lows. But it wont stay that way forever because by 2019 the rate is expected to hit 3% and stay there for quite awhile.  Hey what do you expect? Inflation is rising to the mark where the Fed wants it to, times are good, economically speaking and, just like with home builder sentiment, the strong labor market is putting a fiscal smile on a lot of faces.

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer’s Expensive Goodbye; Intel Revs it Up on Self-Driving Cars; Another Sporting Goods Chain Throws in the Towel

Yah-who?

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Well the good news is that Marissa Mayer will get to add $23 million to her bank account. And who wouldn’t like to see their bank account get a deposit like that? The bad news is that the $23 million is part of her severance package from Yahoo. At least that’s what a regulatory filing indicated. And no one seems to know – and if they do, they are not talking – whether Ms. Mayer will be staying with the remaining entities of Yahoo that Verizon is buying. The parts of the company that Verizon is not buying will eventually be formed into a new company called Altaba, to be headed by Thomas J. McInerney. If you recall, Verizon got to cut $350 million from the final purchase price of $4.5 billion because of Yahoo’s fiscally disastrous data breach. Verizon’s feelings were that Yahoo execs didn’t quite “properly comprehend or investigate” those breaches that affected hundreds of millions of people. At this point, feel free to get a little more colorful in rephrasing that last bit with your own words and thoughts. Especially if you are a Yahoo account holder. The data breach also cost Ms. Mayer her own 2016 cash bonus of up to $2 million. However, to her credit, she did graciously gave up her bonus and equity grants for 2017.

Start me up…

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Intel just threw down over $15 billion to buy Israeli tech company, Mobileye NV.  What,  might you be wondering, is so special about this particular tech company that had a chip-maker eager to plunk down a 30% premium of $63.54 per share? Self-driving cars, which you may or may not realize, are all the rage these days. And since Mobileye already commands 70% of the global market for driver-assistance and anti-collision  technology, this acquisition seemed like an awfully prudent way for Intel to break into that industry in a very big way. So I think we can all agree that even though this was Intel’s most expensive purchase of any single company, it was totally worth it. I suppose Mobileye would have to agree as well, since its own stock went up a very substantial 30% on this latest news.

Another one bites the dust…

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Just when you thought you’d seen the last of the sporting goods chains bankruptcies, along comes Gander Mountain to remind us that, alas, those days are far from their bitter end. The Minnesota-based company will follow the unfortunate fiscal footsteps of Sports Authority, Golfsmith and about ten other retailers from the last year or so, and shutter over 30 of its 162 stores. Fierce online competition led to less traffic in stores and too much merchandise on the shelves. Around 1,300 employees will be affected by the closures, but will apparently have an opportunity to be relocated to locations that aren’t floundering. Yet, anyway.

 

Yahoo’s Got Major Un-security Issues; Big Pharma Slapped With Big Lawsuit; Super Bowl “Ads” Up to Big Bucks

Some heads are gonna roll…

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Today’s massive data breach is brought to us by Yahoo. Again. It’s estimated that a billion users had their personal data breached back in 2013, which is nearly twice as big as the last data breach Yahoo reported just a few months ago that happened in 2014. Now Yahoo has the dubious distinction of being the target of arguably the largest data breach. Ever. Incidentally, it wasn’t even Yahoo that discovered the breach but rather law enforcement officials. Law enforcement handed over files to the internet company that they received from a third party who said the info was stolen. Way to stay on top of things, Yahoo! Virginia Senator Mark Warner is now on a mission to investigate why Yahoo can’t seem to get its cyber-defense act together, while Yahoo is on its own mission to investigate who was responsible for the breach.  The Senator went to the SEC  back in September to ask them to investigate if Yahoo did what it was required to do by informing the public about the breach that occurred in 2014.  Warner would have preferred that Yahoo informed the public about the breach when it first happened – and NOT three years later. Sounds fair. In the meantime, there’s talk about whether Verizon still plans to acquire Yahoo’s core internet business for $4.83 billion. With Yahoo’s stock experiencing its biggest intraday drop in almost a year, that deal might go buh-bye as Verizon reviews “the impact of this new development.”  Or Verizon will just offer Yahoo a lower price to acquire it. Because, apparently it still makes strategic sense to purchase Yahoo even with two massive data breaches under its belt.

Suited up…

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Twenty states are going after big pharma via a massive lawsuit that probably wont be going away anytime soon. Mylan NV,Teva Pharmaceuticals and four other companies that manufacture generic medicines are now staring at the wrong end of a very big lawsuit. This lawsuit, by the way, is completely separate from the investigations being led by the Justice Department and other agencies. The companies are being sued for conspiring to fix drug pricing on two generic drugs: an antibiotic called doxycycline and a drug used to treat diabetes called glyburide. The suit charges that brass at the pharmaceutical companies jacked up the drug prices by setting them and also allocated markets, which they all knew was illegal. They made sure any incriminating correspondence was deleted or simply avoided written communication. When asked for a comment, one of the companies named in the suit, Heritage Pharmaceuticals Inc., conveniently blamed former executives who had since been fired.  Jeffrey Glazer, former CEO of Heritage Pharmaceuticals is actually expected to plead guilty next month. Mylan predictably denied the charges while Teva said it’s still reviewing the complaint. The others remained mum.

Ad-citing news…

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The Super Bowl is still a couple of months away but the advertisers are gearing up for their multi-million dollar thirty second spots come February 5. Rumor has it Fox is charging between $5 million – $5.5 million. GoDaddy, which skipped last year’s Super Bowl ad festivities, is coming back this year, along with Snickers, Skittles and – get this – Avocados from Mexico. Can’t wait to see how Donald Trump tweets about that one.  GoDaddy skipped last year’s festivities, apparently to focus on breaking into more international markets. That mission has presumably been accomplished as the domain services company is now available in 56 markets. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without beer ads and Anheuser Busch has got a whole bunch of spots lined up touting its refreshing assortment. In the meantime, regular advertisers, PepsiCo and FritoLay are sitting out this year. It’ll be the first time in ten years that viewers will not see a Doritos ad during the big game. But don’t get too choked up about Pepsico’s absence. The company will still figure prominently since its Pepsi Zero Sugar is the official sponsor of the half-time show starring Lady Gaga.

Ya-Oops! Internet Biz Breach; Tesla Calling Out Wolverine State; Budget Beauty Goes IPO Glam

Out of breach…

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As if things couldn’t get any dicier at Yahoo, the company is now facing the wrong end of a security breach with roughly 500 million Yahoo accounts caught in the fray of the company’s core internet business. And all this as Yahoo hopes to close a $4.8 billion deal with Verizon so the telecom giant can acquire those compromised core internet assets. It seems talk of a breach surfaced way back in August when a story broke out about a hacker, who goes by the name “Peace,” sold a ton of personal info that included birthdates, usernames, scrambled passwords etc. for the price of three bitcoins. In case you were wondering, because I know you were, that’s around $1,800. The question of the day is should Yahoo have come clean about the breach sooner and been a bit more proactive? After all, there are laws regarding breaches in 48 states that stipulate that companies must alert affected customers within a certain amount of time. But Yahoo might be in the clear since no social security numbers or other financial information was supposedly involved.  For those who have Yahoo accounts and want to take additional precautions, besides changing passwords, they can visit http://www.identitytheft.gov.

Denied…

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Tesla’s not very happy with Michigan right now as evidenced by the lawsuit it filed against the state and its Governor Rick Snyder. Tesla is screaming foul, calling a 2014 Michigan law unconstitutional, because it seems to have been designed to protect auto titan and Michigan darling, General Motors. Apparently, the Great Lake state doesn’t take kindly to automakers selling their cars directly to (gasp!) consumers and refuses to issue a dealership license to the maker of the pish-posh battery-operated cars. Car salesmen find Tesla’s business model positively odious because it has the car company selling its motorized wares directly to the folks who will ultimately be driving them, thereby cutting out the middleman i.e. car salesmen. Tesla, which is also suing Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – her department officially rejected Tesla’s license application – is hoping a judge strikes down the the law because it impedes commerce between states. Tesla is currently barred from selling and repairing its cars in Michigan, as well as not being licensed to sell them in Connecticut, Texas and Utah.

IPO glam…

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There’s a new darling on Wall Street and this time it’s one that has very little to do with tech. Enter e.l.f. beauty  – which stands for eyes, lips, face (duh!) – a cosmetics company with 9 stores in the New York area, two stores in the L.A. area and is also sold in 19,000 retail locations including Walmart and Target, of course. E.l.f., which trades on the NYSE exchange under the ticker symbol ELF, is positively fabulous if only because of its super-special price point: it’s considerably lower than other brands with most of its products selling for $6 or less. Backed by private equity firm TPG, the IPO was set to debut between $14-$16 a share, but was then later priced at $17 per share with 8.3 million shares up for grabs.  None of that seemed to matter when it opened this morning at $24 a share and then soared 59% to $27.09. That gave the company a value of over $1 billion which is not bad for a company that sells a bargain product in a very crowded $57 billion global cosmetics industry.

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Brexit Problems; DOJ V. Health Insurance Industry: The First Round; No News is Not Good News at Yahoo

It’s all Brexit to me…

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The bad Brexit news just keeps on coming with the IMF now sharing its unpleasant thoughts. The fund has cut the global forecast for the next two years, expecting global economic growth for 2016 to come in at 3.1% and 3.4% for 2017. And those figures are on the bright side since the IMF feels that there is “sizable increase in uncertainty” about how bad the Brexit damage will be. That forecast is riding the wave that the EU and British officials will graciously reach new trade agreements that won’t make trading conditions any more challenging than necessary. If officials can’t hash out the details then Britain just might be staring down the wrong end of a recession. All because of the Brexit vote. Perhaps the pro-Brexiters really didn’t expect investors would ditch Britain in favor of more fiscally welcoming euro areas. And who can blame the ditchers, seeing as how the pound has dropped an ugly 12% against the dollar since the ominous vote. The IMF, however, still anticipates actual growth for the UK, if only by a paltry 1.7%. By the way, this is the IMF’s fifth time cutting its forecast in just 15 months. In fact, had the Brexit vote gone the other way, the IMF was set to upgrade global projections. Way to go Britain! As for the impact in the U.S., the IMF thinks it will go relatively unscathed. How reassuring.

Put up your dukes…

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Looks like there won’t be any big health insurance company mergers. At least not if the Department of Justice has its way. Which it usually does. Anthem’s proposed $48 billion merger with Cigna and Aetna’s proposed $34 billion merger with Humana are on hold, and maybe permanently, as the Justice Department gets set to file antitrust lawsuits to block their ambitious plans. The Justice Department, which has been scrutinizing these deals for a year, is worried that these mergers would reduce competition and harm the little people a.k.a. the consumers with much higher prices. But the health insurance companies argue that they’ve endured some challenges with President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and would like to prove the Justice Department wrong by shedding assets to competitors which would help them achieve cost savings and better results. Anthem and Aetna argued that their proposed mergers would provide them with the right scale to create more savings. And who doesn’t like savings? But the Justice Department isn’t biting. A merger between Anthem and Cigna would give the  newly combined company 54 million members with $117 billion in yearly revenue. The health insurance industry would shrink to three humongous players from five massive ones. United Health Group would sit smack dab in the middle of them. Expect a fight. A very long and costly one. Investors apparently are as shares went down today at all four health insurance companies.

How much is that website in the window?

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What’s to talk about at Yahoo is that there is not much to talk about at Yahoo. Still no word on who will buy the site’s core internet assets, though today is the last day that bids will be accepted. Offers are expected to be between $3.5 billion and $5 billion. Rumors are swirling that Verizon will be the lucky/likely buyer. Not that that has been confirmed. What has been confirmed is that Yahoo managed to eke out earnings of nine cents per share. Too bad expectations were for ten cents.  To add insult to fiscal injury, last year at this time Yahoo took in 16 cents per share. Want to hear about Yahoo’s net loss? Of course you do. The company ate $448 million in net losses. Just to put that into perspective, last year at this time Yahoo only lost $22 million. Yahoo also found itself writing down the value of Tumblr. Again. The first time it did that this year it was for $230 million. Now it was for $382 million. Yahoo bought the internet site just three years ago for the whopping sum $1.1 billion. Oh well. It’s like paying full price for something that went to clearance shortly after. Yahoo also slashed its work-force, going from 11,00 employees to 8,800 employees. And just so you know, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said that the cost-cutting measures are working. It’s just not clear for whom.

 

Ralph Lauren’s Man with a Plan; Voila! French Rogue Trader Gets Last Laugh…Almost;Ya-Who Will Get the Winning Bid?

 

Plan of attack…

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Ralph Lauren will bite the very preppy bullet and start cutting jobs, closing stores and cashing out on some real estate as the retailer tries to climb out of a dismal fiscal year. Out of its 15,000 full-time employees, 1,000 of them will soon be getting their walking papers so the company can restructure itself and go from nine management layers to six. Spearheading these new changes are CEO Stefan Larrson, who is the person responsible for lifting Gap Inc.’s Old Navy out of its own retail funk awhile back. And Larsson’s got his work cut out for him. The retailer posted sales losses for every quarter of fiscal 2016, resulting in a full year sales decline of 3% and a 30% decline in shares in the last twelve months. Part of Larsson’s plan to lift Ralph Lauren out of its misery is to speed things up. Literally. It currently takes well over a year for a design to hit shelves ,which accounts for improperly forecasting supply and demand. Instead, Larsson will shorten that turnaround, as he feels that nine months is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for designs to reach stores. Unfortunately, 50 of those stores will be closing. But at least there will be over 440 other stores from which to purchase those expedited designs. Phew. While this restructuring will cost Ralph Lauren a whopping $400 million, not to mention an additional $150 million in inventory reduction, this new plan will also help the retailer save $220 million a year and Ralph Lauren needs every million it can get.

Wait a minute…

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Societe General Bank’s very own rogue trader, Jerome Kerviel, just got his day in court. Even though his poor trading skills cost the French bank billion in euros, and got him convicted of fraud and breach of trust in the process, the trader still managed to win a wrongful dismissal case against his former employer. What was, in fact, wrongful, was that SocGen waited too long between the time it discovered Kerviel’s misdeeds and the time it booted him from the firm. French labor code allows companies a grand total of two months to sanction those who have been found guilty of misconduct. Kerviel, however, was dismissed in 2008, many many months after the time, in 2007, when it was discovered that he went rogue and lost 4.9 billion euros. The Labor Court has now ordered SocGen to pay Kerviel 450,000 euros, which is roughly equivalent to $510,000. SocGen’s lawyer, Arnaud Chalut, called the ruling “scandalous,” presumably in French, and plans to appeal the decision. Kerviel, however, is not in the clear just yet and neither is his $510,000. France’s highest court already ruled that the three years of jail time to which Kerviel was sentenced was justified. But the court didn’t feel that he should be liable for the whole 4.9 billion euros. So the bank has brought a civil suit against Kerviel, which begins next week, to determine exactly how much he should pay back to SocGen.

Bid adieu…

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Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Verizon is on the prowl for some internet business and it is honing in on Yahoo. The telecom giant is said to be bidding $3 billion for the privilege of owning Yahoo’s core internet biz, however, Verizon is not the only company looking to scoop up that entity. AT&T is said to be licking its chops at the opportunity, in addition to private equity firm TPG , Advent International and Vista Equity Partners, to name but a few. Experts were thinking that bids would come in between $4 billion and $8 billion. But then some bidders lost interest after Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made a presentation last month showing how Yahoo’s online ad biz is headed south, losing digital advertising ground to Facebook, Google and even Twitter. Yahoo, however, might just prove to be the perfect fit for Verizon, which already picked up AOL last year for $4.4 billion. Together with AOL, the two companies attract over one billion users every month. There is probably going to be one more bidding cycle before any deals are reached and it’s still anybody’s guess where Yahoo will land. But if I were a betting man…well, I’m not.

George Soros, Golden Boy; Home Run for Home Depot; Pandora’s Streaming Away From Profits

Just because George Soros is doing it…

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George Soros just put a whole lotta money in gold. Lucky for him. However, the non-George Soroses of the world are supposed to take note, because, after all, he is, “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England.” And also because, since his net worth according to Forbes is $25 billion, he knows a things or two. Or a billion. In any case, according to a very recent regulatory filing that folks like him have to file (it’s called a 13F, and you are welcome that I am sparing you the boring details), Mr. Soros has sold off about 37% of his stock holdings. He then whipped out $387 million to buy lots of gold, including picking up a hefty 19 million shares in Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer. It seems Mr. Soros is a more than a bit freaked out by the state of the global economy, and especially the slowdown in China. He feels the fiscal climate is reminiscent to him of 2007 – 2008 period just before the fiscal crash we are all still trying to forget. Not everyone agrees with Soros and his decision for his Soros Fund Management, but hey, he is the one who, back in 1992, bet against the British pound and made $1 billion off that bet – in a single day. I bet he’s real popular there. Anyway, it’s no secret that gold has always been a strong performer on Wall Street, as well as other places, mind you. The precious metal is up 21% for the year. But, just so ya’ know,  Soros still has plenty of other cash in plenty of other places. Like eBay and Apple. And Yahoo. And Gap…well, you see where I’m going with this. In fact, he’s got $80 million invested NOT in gold. In case you’re wondering what stocks he did ditch, some of those include Alibaba Group and Pfizer. Also, TripAdvisor and Expedia are out of his portfolio. Though, he did keep airline United Continental Holdings. Go figure.

Home improvement…

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As the warm weather brutalized plenty of retail outfits lately, (sorry, Macy’s, Nordstrom), Mother Nature knocked it out of the park for Home Depot. In turn, Home Depot warmed our hearts by boosting its sales and profit forecasts after regaling us with the news of its better-than-expected earnings, courtesy of Mother Nature. And as we all know, Wall Street loves nothing better than better-than-expected earnings. Except when investors feel that shares have hit their potential, for the moment anyway, which explains why shares of the home improvement chain were a wee bit down today. But no worries. A good housing market and fabulous weather added some $250 million in sales for Home Depot in the quarter, with February being the sweetest month, fiscally speaking. For the year, Home Depot is up about 20%, posting a profit of $1.8 billion a $1.44 per share. That was a 14% boost over last year, not to mention that it trumped analysts predictions of $1.36 per share. The company also saw $22.76 billion in sales, again stomping on predictions of $22.39 billion. The earnings also showed that consumers are actually spending their hard-earned cash, as opposed to hoarding it under mattresses (okay, banks too), unlike what was previously thought because of the generally poor performance in the retail sector. Spending money is good for the economy and now economists aren’t so worried anymore because they realize where all that hard-earned cash went. For the full year the retailer thinks it’ll pull down $6.27 per share for the year. And Spring has hardly sprung!

Closing the box…

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Pandora Media has had better years. Even better decades. Founded in 2000, the company had its IPO in 2011 and has about 80 million active users. While it was amongst the first crop of music streamers, the company’s stock is now down about 40% for the last twelve months, having never caught the same momentum as some of its competitors, including Apple and Spotify. Enter activist investor/Carl Icahn protégé Keith Meister, who feels that the time has come for Pandora to put itself on the market. Keith Meister’s Corvex Management has some very strong feelings about how much better – and profitable – Pandora can be and seeing as how he’s got 22.7 million shares, giving him an almost 10% stake in the company, he’s entitled to more than just his opinion on the matter. As the largest shareholder in the company, Meister wrote in a recent letter how he has “become increasingly concerned that the company may be pursuing a costly and uncertain business plan, without a thorough evaluation of all shareholder value-maximizing alternatives.” Basically, he’s wondering if the folks in charge, namely CEO and co-founder Tim Westergren, knows what they’re doing. Wall Street certainly seemed to be agreeing with Meister, as it sent the stock up today as much as 7% at one point.

Banking Scandal or Ben Affleck Movie?; Airline Ranks and Tanks; Drones to the Rescue

Who gets the movie rights?

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The latest scandal to come out of the banking world has its very own name – “The Panama Papers.” It seems a Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca helped a slew of politicians, celebrities, businessman etc. to create offshore accounts and shell companies for the last forty years. It’s estimated that 500 banks all over the world enlisted the help and resources of Mossack Fonseca to help them set up these shell companies since 1977. Fast forward to a year ago when an anonymous source leaked some 11 million documents to Germany’s biggest newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, which then enlisted the help of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The ICIJ shared information and hunted down leads for over a year in an effort to publicize “The Panama Papers” that contain information on some 214,000 offshore companies. The documents also have plenty of unflattering details about Russian President Vladimir Putin, FIFA officials and over 30 other people and companies that are blacklisted by the U.S. government. These include people indicted for corruption and have ties to drug trafficking and terrorism. Strangely enough, Mossack Fonseco only seems to know the true identities of just over 200 companies out of the over 14,000 that the firm managed to incorporate just in the Seychelles. Now banks across Europe find themselves under the microscope as regulators try to establish if and how those banks found ways to hide assets. The Kremlin, ironically, is calling the allegations “a series of fibs” and thinks its just an attempt to thwart Putins chances in upcoming elections, which are said to be rigged anyway. FIFA, another group that could use a lesson or two on business ethics, called the allegations “ridiculous.” To be fair, it’s not clear to certain people that any actual illegal activity occurred. Of course the banks denied any wrongdoing while Mossack Fonseca calls itself the victim of a data breach.

Bumpy landing…

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Results are in for the Airline Quality Rating and you might just be surprised. Or not. Virgin America took the top spot, even earning the best score in the baggage handling rate category. While Virgin America no doubt takes pride in getting the best ranking, Sir Richard Branson is not exactly celebrating considering Alaska Airlines is buying him out for $2.6 billion. Alaska Airlines, by the way, is paying $57 in cash per share, – a 47% premium over Virgin America’s closing price on Friday. Incidentally, Alaska Airlines came in fifth, though it was ranked highest when it came to fewest customer complaints. But it is anyone’s guess how this buyout will impact Virgin America’s rating next year. In any case, JetBlue came in at number two with Delta, shockingly enough, earning a very respectable third place ranking. Overall industry performance improved slightly. Really slightly. Six carriers actually improved, while another six did not. Spirit came in dead last, but in all fairness, Spirit is new to the list. Also in all fairness, Spirit ranked the highest in customer complaints, which makes sense considering that its culture is best described as “take it or leave it.” Amerian Airlines plunged three spots from last year to number 10. Which sounds about right. American, by the way, is the largest carrier in the world, just not on the United States. United is and yet it doesn’t exactly boast an enthusiastic following. Hawaiian Airlines ranked number one for on-time performance. And that’s really great. Especially if you’re going to Hawaii. Which unfortunately, I am not.

Start-up STAT…

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Bay Area start-up Zipline just scored $18 million in funding  – but not from just any investors.  Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Yahoo Founder Jerry Yang saw fit to plunk down tons of cash for the drone company but the question is: what makes this drone company different from all the other drone companies? At least for Paul Allen and Jerry Yang. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo is using his drone technology not for delivering books and groceries, but rather to save lives in third-world countries. Zipline’s drones will be delivering blood and much-needed medical supplies to remote, hard-to-reach areas in Rwanda. Rinaudo, a Harvard-trained scientist said that there is “nothing more precious than blood and medicine” and plans on making those items much more accesible than they have ever been. He also wisely pointed out: “Getting medicine to remote places is both a huge market and a global challenge.” As of now places in Rwanada get resupplied a few times a year. But Rinaudo is planning for his drones to make up to 150 drops a day come July. The government of Rwanda is footing the bill to make that happen. And unlike many other types of drones that can’t operate properly in inclement weather, Zipline’s drones can, are able to carry up to 3.5 lbs. and fly within a 75 mile range. Considering that Rwanda is one of the poorest nations in the world, it will become the first country to employ commercial drone delivery, all while Amazon and other companies continue fighting regulatory battles and FAA hurdles.