Amazon’s Kindness Almost Knows No Bounds; Uber Cleans House; Crew-Cut: CEO Drexel Waves a Preppy Goodbye

Yep, they went there…

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It’s the American Dream. Well, for Amazon anyway. Rather than worry about disenfranchising an entire portion of the population that can’t comfortably afford Amazon’s Prime subscription service, the e-commerce giant is now offering this highly esteemed membership privilege for a 50% discount to those on government assistance. All it takes is a valid Electronic Benefits Transfer card. Because why should the fact that someone is receiving government assistance stand in the way of their Amazon shopping experience, right? It is incredibly thoughtful of Amazon to think of those less fortunate by reducing the cost of subscription for them. However, if it were not to Amazon’s fiscal advantage, then this latest initiative might not have been unveiled. That fiscal advantage comes in the form of a competitive edge over Walmart, whose low prices have attracted the very countless customers that Amazon is trying to woo with this new incentive. After all, studies have shown that once customers sign up for Prime status, they tend to beef up their orders. So, we’re talking a win-win for Amazon. And a lose for Walmart.

Job openings…

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Looks like karma may finally be catching up with some folks over at Uber, as the ride-sharing company just fired 20 employees over sexual harassment claims. Apparently 215 claims were leveled against these 20 individuals, which sort of begs the question: Was there anybody left at Uber who didn’t get sexually harassed? The investigation was conducted by law firm Perkins Coie and disturbingly enough, it found that no action was even taken in 100 of those claims. Oh, and there are still even more claims being investigated.  In addition to the 20 terminated fiends, seven other employees received written warnings, while 31 more employees need to get “special training” to teach them how not to harass people and behave like stupid, thoughtless destructive pieces of trash. CEO Travis Kalanick launched the investigation back in February after a former Uber employee named Susan Fowler wrote in a blog post about her personal experiences of sexual harassment and gender bias at the company. However, when asked about the issue back in May, Uber’s head of HR, Liane Hornsey, said it wasn’t an issue that had come up. Especially if you had your head firmly entrenched in the sand, of course.

And that’s a wrap…

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After 14 years, J. Crew’s Mickey Drexler is calling it quits and handing over the reins to West Elm CEO James Brett. While Drexler may be out as CEO, he’ll still stay on as Chairman. And why not? After all, he owns 10% of the preppy apparel company. Drexel decided to step down from his role after declining sales – 6% in just the last year – led to a whole bunch of other problems including restructuring, layoffs and the departure of its pseudo-celebrity, high-profile creative director, Jenna Lyons. Not that any of that was entirely Drexel’s fault. Only a bit of it, some might argue. Because apparently the problems and challenges he faced were industry wide for apparel companies in general, as so many of them continue to struggle to get a leg up on fast-fashion, affordable competitors like Zara and H&M.

 

EU Wants to Take a Big Tax Bite Out of Apple; Google Takes On Uber. Sort of; Abercrombie & Fitch Teen Ditch

Bite me…

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The EU commission is coming down hard on Apple by slapping the world’s most valuable company with a $14.5 billion bill for back taxes. The EU felt Apple illegally received tax aid in the form of a sweetheart tax deal from Ireland. However, both Apple and Ireland deny that allegation and contend that everything they did was totally legit. More than 700 U.S. companies currently have some type of business set up in Ireland where they enjoy a reduced corporate tax rate compared to that of the U.S. The EU however says that rate is too reduced and says Apple pays much MUCH less than the 12.5% corporate tax rate in the country. Companies can set up tax structures that allow them to pay even less.  EU officials charge that Apple did just that and Apple paid only a .005% rate on its profits in 2014.  I’d love to meet Apple’s accountants who set that one up. Just saying. The U.S treasury isn’t happy about the situation either and feels U.S.firms are being unfairly targeted and that such investigations are unfair. Senator Chuck Schumer even called this latest judgement a “cheap money grab.” Don’t expect to bump into him on your next European vacay. According to the treasury, judgements of this type could undermine U.S. investments in Europe. Starbucks already got hit with a $33 million back-tax deal while Amazon and McDonald’s are currently staring at the wrong end of their own EU investigations. The government believes that U.S. taxpayers will likely bear the brunt of the EU’s very inconvenient decision because Apple would basically deduct the $14.5 billion from taxes that it owes to the U.S. government.

Anything you can do Google can do better…

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Search engine giant, Google, is now offering its own ride-sharing app to San Francisco residents. If you’re thinking Google’s encroaching on Uber and Lyft’s turf then…you might be right. Sort of. Google began a pilot program back in May that allows commuters to carpool at cheaper rates then Uber and Lyft. Much cheaper. In fact, the rates are so cheap – think 54 cents per mile – that there is no incentive to even become a taxi driver. What’s more is that Google doesn’t even take a cut. Yet. By using Waze, which Google acquired back in 2013, commuters connect with other commuters headed in the same direction. Uber, which is currently valued at around $68 billion might begin to take issue with Google’s latest plans, assuming they’ll expand. And they will. Ironically, Google invested $258 million into Uber back in 2013. The situation between the two companies has gotten quite dicey as Google exec David Drummond recently resigned from Uber’s board given all the conflicts that are rising from these latest developments.

Smells like twenty-something spirit…

 

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Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyor of trendy teen clothing, has officially posted its fourteenth straight quarter of losses. The company saw a decline of a 4%, which was more than what was expected. A&F posted a net loss of $13 million, which was a brutal change from last year’s same quarter loss of $810,000. Net sales fell to $783, a far cry from last year’s $818 million. Naturally, as with all bad earnings reports, a tumble in shares ensued, with shares of the trendy retailer taking a 20% hit. Besides a strong dollar, the chain can’t compete with the likes of H&M, Zara and a whole bunch of other clothing sellers. Back in May, the company had predicted an improvement. But that didn’t happen and now A&F isn’t even expecting one in the near future. Which might explain why the company will reshift its focus from teens to bona-fide money making twenty-somethngs who can afford the clothes A&F is selling. Considering that more than 50% of A&F’s customers are adults over the age of 20, this seems like a prudent move. So if you find yourself at one of A&F’s 744 locations – of which 60 of them will be closing –  you might not want to be so quick to walk away as the company attempts to rebrand itself as the “iconic American casual luxury brand.” I don’t know why that just made me think of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. But it did.  The clothing company will be selling clothes for actual grown-ups who once upon a time were the same teens who spent their parents’ hard-earned cash at this very establishment.

 

 

Costco’s Credit Chaos; Macy’s Switches it Up with New Chief; VW’s Writing Checks

Not to their credit…

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So much for a seamless transition of the Costco Anywhere Visa cards. The club-retailer started accepting the card this week, after ending its 16 year relationship with American Express, and there has been no shortage of chaos. While American Express enjoys a hearty laugh over this new credit card debacle,  Costco customers have been flocking to Facebook to rage against Coscto and its Citigroup credit card. Since Monday, Citigroup has been flooded with phone calls from 1.5 million disgruntled callers whose issues included problems activating accounts, lengthy wait times to speak to a living human breathing customer service representative and even difficulty trying to pay off existing balances. I mean seriously, when was the last time you had a hard time getting someone to take money from you. Costco has over 80 million members worldwide and eleven million of them applied for this new card. Those cards were supposed to have arrived back in May. Unfortunately many didn’t. The card offers a generous cash-back program and has no annual fee and, which was the bone of contention between Amex and Costco, that ultimately put the kibosh on the relationship. About 25% of Costco shoppers used Amex cards for their purchases and Amex took a 6% fee that cost the retailer $180 million. Citigroup is the biggest credit card lender in the world and analysts think the new partnership is a great idea to cut down on costs. Visa’s fees will be considerably smaller, costing Costco somewhere between $60 million and $150 million. Which is great news, as long as you’re not standing on line right now trying to make a purchase with the store’s new Visa card.

Miracle on 34th Street?

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Long-time Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren is getting set to bid a long and fond farewell to the department store he helmed for the last 14 years. While he still gets to remain chairman, succeeding him officially in 2017 will be Macy’s president and former Chief Merchandising Officer, Jeff Gennette. Lundgren might be a bit sad but Wall Street sure isn’t. Investors sent shares up on the news, which is especially reassuring since shares have gone down in value more than 50% in the last twelve months. To be fair, Lundgren’s contributions were nothing short of impressive. He made Macy’s the largest department store chain in the United States, among other shining achievements. But the time has come for a changing of the retail guard as Macy’s got hit with five straight quarters of same-store losses and its first quarter results were the worst they’ve ever been since 2008. That last bit caused a bit of panic in the retail sector as other big retailers worried that these results signaled an industry-wide problem. Some experts, me not being one of them, are convinced that Macy’s doesn’t have the chops, yet anyway, to compete with the likes of the Amazons, H&M’s and Zaras of the world. (Not that H&M’s recent results were all that impressive). With a strong dollar and falling sales, Macy’s had to close about 40 stores and cut thousands of jobs. As for Gennette, one source said, “He is going to make the radical changes” which sounds awfully ominous, but in fact, entails, at least in part, setting up an off-price store called Macy’s Backstage and making online shopping enhancements, which seem to be all the rage.

Farfegnugen…

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It’s official. Sort of. Volkswagen will cough up a settlement of about $10.3 billion to settle claims that it rigged emissions tests on some of its models. Part of the settlement includes offers to buy back about 500,000 odious vehicles which emit 40 times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide into the air we breathe. By the way, VW is not expected, by the EPA anyway, to repair all of the offending vehicles. Some owners will receive as much as $7,000 in compensation. There’s a joke in there somewhere. Also, VW must set aside money for green energy projects besides establishing programs whose focus is to offset diesel pollution. Talk about karma. Both Volkswagen and the EPA declined to comment on the settlement, which I suppose is to be expected. This settlement is completely separate from other lawsuits suits filed by other U.S. states and is also separate from the Justice Department’s own criminal investigation into the matter. So it seems as though things are anything but settled for Volkswagen.

The List of all Lists; Kate Spade’s Numbers Need to Get Accessorized; GoPro Goes Big With Latest Acquisitions

A-listers…

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Forbes unleashed its latest list of the world’s richest people just in time to make you feel really bad about yourself. 1,810 billionaires made the list and their combined net worth is a mind-blowing $6.48 trillion. But don’t be too impressed since that figure is actually $580 billion less than it was last year. Hey, times are tough. There are 16 less billionaires this year and 540 of them are living large in the United States. The gender gap managed to rear its ugly face on this list as only 190 women made the cut, with 65 here in the United States. Unfortunately that figure was down from 197 last year. Heiress and L’Oreal businesswoman Lilliane Bettencourt is the highest ranked woman, taking the 11th spot with a net worth of $36.1 billion. For the third year in a row, Bill Gates is sitting pretty at the top with a net worth of $75 billion. However, to be fair, he is $4.2 billion poorer than he was last year. My heart aches for him, really. Like Zara clothing? Apparently most people do since its owner, Amancio Ortega, ranks in the number two spot. Warren Buffett, no surprise, takes third while Carlos Slim snags the fourth spot. Facebook’s 31 year old Mark Zuckerberg took the sixth spot with his $44.6 billion and becomes the youngest billionaire in the top ten. Lucky him. And whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump did make the list with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Accessorized…

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Kate Spade almost fell out of fashion on Wall Street today when the company reported that its fourth quarter sales fell short, coming in at $62 million and adding 32 cents per share. The company missed estimates by a penny and posted a 51% decline from last year  when the company saw $126 million with 49 cents added per share.  At least its revenue was up 7.6% to $429 million, although analysts did expect that number to ring in closer to $442 million. Oh well. Maybe next quarter. Yet, Kate Spade shares rose as high as 6.7% today. And why shouldn’t they? After all, the swaggy design house is expanding its merchandise into home decor and children’s apparel, prospects that have Wall Street tongues wagging, if ever so slightly. The company has had quite the quirky fiscal ride as it was down a staggering 42% for the last twelve months yet managed to creep up 12% since the beginning of the year. That was happening even while the almighty S&P was going down 5.5%.  Go figure.

Pro-active…

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What to do when your company takes a vicious downward spiral killing 70% of its value? You go shopping, of course. And that’s exactly what GoPro Inc. CEO Nicholas Woodman did. The action-camera exec announced he is plunking down $105 million to buy not one, but two video editing applications, in hopes of beefing up one of the company’s bigger problem areas.  Wall Street responded kindly by sending shares up and let’s face it, GoPro shares need all the help they can get. GoPro’s acquisitions are Replay and Splice, applications that will allow users the ability to easily cut and publish footage on their mobile phones. Given that Woodman himself called he GoPro editing experience an “inconvenience,” these acquisitions seem like a prudent move. Too bad, however, that this move comes on the heels of GoPro’s decision last month to cut 7% of its workforce after weak holiday sales and slashing the price of its newest camera by 50%. That’s what happens when you’re staring into a crowded market of action-cameras. But, taking a page from Warren Buffett, Woodman is optimistic that 2016 will be a record year for GoPro. Let’s hope so since 2015 saw GoPro’s stock hit an all-time low.

Gap Tries to Bridge Its Sales Gap; Under Armour CEO Lofty Leadership Plans; Fitbit Not So Bitty Ticker Plans

Big Gap-ing hole…

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Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Gap Inc. finally realized that its brand just isn’t what it used to be and has decided to shutter about 175 of its 675 specialty stores. What once might have been considered the Generation X go to wardrobe supplier, has now become passé to the millennials, many of whom, ironically, are employed by the Gap. Millennials have been opting to shop at “fast” brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21, leaving the Gap holding the empty shopping bag of fiscal anguish. And not to be a downer, but when I browsed through a Gap last week, I wasn’t exactly swooning over the merchandise which the store was practically giving away. Shoppers are doing a lot more of their shopping online so there was no great pay-off in having so many stores open anyways. About 250 employees over at Gap headquarters in San Francisco are also set to lose their jobs and all these cuts are expected to cost between $140 – $160 million.

So classy…

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Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has big plans to lead the company he founded for many many years. Good thing he figured out way to do just that – by offering up more shares to investors. Of course, these aren’t your regular average shares. These shares do carry all the rights and privileges that come with owning a company stock – but with one itty bitty difference: the shares carry no voting power.  The company already has class A shares and class B shares. With class A shares, a shareholder gets one vote per share, while class B shares get ten votes per share owned. In case you haven’t figured it out, Kevin Plank holds most of those shares giving him lots of control. But, the board of directors had no problem with Kevin Plank’s class-y plan, unanimously passing it through. And why should the board take issue with it? Under Plank’s guidance, he led the company to a $17 billion valuation. The problem, however, that everybody seems to be wondering about, is what happens if Kevin Plank begins to under-perform?

Speaking of class-y shares…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fitbit is getting pumped up to make its big ticker debut on Thursday and gearing up to offer 34.5 million class A shares which are set to go for between $17 – $19 a pop. That’s a bit higher than the $14 – $16 range it was going for a few weeks back.  That means the company, famous for its wearable fitness tracker,  could end up with a potential valuation of almost $4 billion.  And while you may bemoan the thought of exercise, there are a lot you out there who are eager to get fit, as evidenced by the $745 million in revenue Fitbit pulled down last year, earning a $100 million profit with that. Of course there’s still a lot of competition out there when it comes to wearable fitness trackers which has investors pondering just how Fitbit is going to set itself apart from the pack. Then there’s that other slight problem where users decide to ditch their trackers after just a few months. But hey, it’s only money, right?

A&F Earnings Are Out of Fashion; McDonald’s Biotic Changes; Target-ing Change

Teen-y tiny…

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teen-centric apparel company Abercrombie & Fitch took a fourth quarter beating. One of the (many) reasons seems to be that the fickle adolescent community got tired of advertising the A&F logo on their chests and butts. And like so many other companies, the strong U.S. dollar also seemed to be putting a crimp in the retailer’s numbers, especially considering that a third of the company’s revenue comes from outside the country.  Same store sales also decreased by 10%. Then there’s the part about how teens have been spending less money on clothing than in recent years, yet they are increasingly looking to outfit themselves through the likes of H&M, Forever 21 and Zara. Those chains tend to offer “fast fashion” that kids today totally dig at much better prices. Does that make A&F’s fashions slow? Hmmm. Oddly enough, American Eagle, one of A&F’s competitors actually beat the street with its earnings and even hit a 52-week high. Net sales of Abercrombie & Fitch fell 14% to $1.12 billion with  profits coming in at $44.4 million and 63 cents per share. Analysts expected $1.15 per share on $1.17 billion in revenue.  To add insult to injury, Abercrombie & Fitch is looking to unload its company jet , a relic from the days when big mouth CEO Michael Jeffries ruled the A&F empire.

Cured!

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Image courtesy of Idea go/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re not into chicken seasoned with antibiotics, then you’re in luck. McDonalds has decided to scrap that special feature from its poultry menu, except it’s going to take approximately two years to fully get there. Steve Easterbrook, who took over as CEO just three days ago, did promise some major changes at the the Golden Arches. The fast-food company has become increasingly concerned over “superbugs” that have caused about 23,000 deaths per year. McDonalds will still allow ionophores in its chicken products. Yum. But don’t sweat it too much. Ionophores are antibiotics meant for our feathered friends – not for humans. Phew. The chicken change will affect the 14,000 eateries in the United States, but don’t expect to see any changes in the 22,000 McDonalds restaurants abroad. At least not yet, anyway. While Chick-fil-A already did away with antibiotics-laced chicken a year ago, the fact that McDonald’s is set to make these changes is rather epic, being the largest fast food chain and all. Once McDonald’s gets its distributors and processors to alter the food (for the better, of course), it will make it substantially easier for smaller chains to follow suit. So, here’s to antibiotic-free chicken! Bon appetit!

About those unemployment benefits….

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Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Big changes are in store for Target and it’s safe to say some of them won’t be welcomed. The giant retailer, who is in the process of literally closing up shop in Canada, is also in the process of trying to cut $2 billion in costs. Part of that cost-cutting includes job-cutting. Several thousand people will need to polish up their reumes and update their LinkedIn accounts as Target looks to cut most of those positions from its corporate headquarters and some position in India, as well. But Target’s got other big ideas that don’t involve applying for unemployment benefits. It’ll be running a huge Hispanic millennial campaign – apparently the first of its kind – and part of it involves teaming up the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” together with Target’s baby department. Then Target’s also looking to open up 15 more stores, however, eight of them will be CityTarget and TargetExpress stores which – you guessed it – will be taking an urban approach seeing as how they will be geared toward an urban crowd in a presumably urban location.