Sunday, August 14, 2016

Slow Saturday Special: Globe's Penny Stocks

That is about as much its worth these days....

"Penny stock company linked to Scott Brown accused of fraud" by Todd Wallack Globe Staff  August 12, 2016

The tiny Florida company that briefly dogged Scott Brown’s run for US Senate in New Hampshire two years ago has been accused of investment fraud.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Friday it has charged Global Digital Solutions Inc. and two of its former executives with issuing false and misleading press releases from October 2013 to March 2014. Brown served on the company’s advisory board during the same period of time.

As the Globe reported in 2014, the company touted itself as a leader in firearms and security technology. But in reality, the company had no customers, no revenue, no history of making any firearms, and only a virtual office in West Palm Beach, Fla. The company was founded as a beauty supply firm in New Jersey — selling hair spray, shampoos, and other beauty products — before becoming a wireless data firm and then rebranding itself as a gun technology firm.

Brown is not charged with any wrongdoing. But Brown’s decision to join the company company became an issue in the 2014 campaign, raising questions about his judgment.

In exchange for joining the company’s advisory board in September 2013, Brown received restricted stock initially valued at $1.3 million. The company in turn used Brown’s name to help tout the company’s potential and sell stock to small investors.

After the Globe and other media questioned the Republican candidate about his involvement with the company, Brown announced in June 2014 that he would resign and return his stock in order to focus on his Senate race. Democratic incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen eventually triumphed in the race by a narrow margin, and Brown has since moved on to other ventures. He is now a regular contributor to Fox News and has been a prominent supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Yeah, he's not hurting for money and is part of the big club.

Brown, who is in Omaha this week for a triathlon, said in an e-mail that he was only briefly involved in the company, in an advisory role.

“I am not named in the complaint and I do not expect to be named, due to the fact that I was only involved in an advisory capacity for such a short period of time before I resigned,” Brown told the Globe. “In addition, I was not involved in any of the day to day, press releases, or inner workings of the business.”

Brown also noted that he “did not receive any compensation whatsoever” for his work, because he gave up the restricted stock before it vested.

At least one other former politician also was affiliated with the Florida firm. Former Florida lieutenant governor Jennifer Carroll, who resigned her elected position in March 2013 after being questioned about her ties to a nonprofit under investigation, became a senior adviser to the company a month later and later took an executive role in the firm. Carroll resigned from the company in March 2015 and was not named in the complaint.

In addition to the company, two former executives were named in the SEC complaint: former chief executive Richard J. Sullivan and former chief financial officer David A. Loppert.

“Officers of publicly traded companies have a duty to ensure that every public announcement and corporate filing is steeped in reality,” Eric I. Bustillo, director of the SEC’s Miami regional office, said in a prepared statement. “We allege that Sullivan and Loppert were behind a conscious effort to consistently exaggerate the progress and future prospects of Global Digital Solutions.”

Attorneys for the company and the two executives were not immediately available for comment.

When the Globe first wrote about Global Digital Solutions in June 2014, shares were trading at 46 cents. Today, the stock is worth a fraction of a penny a share....


So often these board arrangements are nothing more than a way to shovel money to those that matter. In this case they used a front company. 


"Coach is putting its money where its mouth is. The 75-year-old handbag maker has pulled its purses and wallets out of 25 percent of the department-store locations that once sold its goods, or about 250 stores, it said Tuesday. The move comes just months after it fired a warning shot to department stores, whose runaway promotions were stinging the company’s profits and deteriorating its reputation as a luxury brand."

Next thing you know you will see them in the Gap.

"Ralph Lauren swung to a first-quarter loss as it spends heavily to turn itself around, but the damage was not as bad as many had expected and its shares rose faster than any other Wednesday on the Standard & Poor’s 500. Just months after taking over as CEO for founder Ralph Lauren late last year, Stefan Larsson (far left, with Lauren) initiated significant changes. He is the first person other than Lauren to hold the title. In addition to slashing costs to right the company’s balance sheet, Larsson tightened its focus on the brands that made Ralph Lauren known worldwide."

Maybe this will brighten your mood:

"Macy’s announces it will close 100 stores" by Megan Woolhouse Globe Staff   August 11, 2016

Macy’s announcement Thursday that it will close about 100 stores threw into question the future of its Massachusetts locations, including a regional flagship in the center of downtown Boston.

The Cincinnati-based chain said that its second-quarter profits and sales had fallen but that it had not made a final decision about which of its 728 locations would close and when. The company said it was also “examining opportunities” involving its real estate holdings at four of its downtown flagship stores in the United States.

Chief financial officer Karen M. Hoguet said in an earnings call that the flagship locations under corporate scrutiny are its Herald Square location in New York, Union Square in San Francisco, State Street in Chicago, and a site in downtown Minneapolis.

“Most of these stores are underperformers or in weak locations,” she said. “We will also close a few stores because their desirability as a redevelopment opportunity exceeds their value to us as a retail store.”

A spokesman declined to comment further.

No decision has been finalized, but Boston could also be vulnerable, said Neil Saunders, chief executive of Conlumino, a New York consulting firm. The Boston store, located in the former Jordan Marsh building in Downtown Crossing, appears worn and in need of renewed investment.

“It’s one of those locations that could go either way, really,” Saunders said. “It should be one that they keep — not having one in Boston would be a fail from an image perspective as much as anything else. But that store also needs a lot of investment and I don’t think its currently aligned with what customers want.”

Macy’s in Downtown Crossing stoically weathered the dark days of the 2008 recession followed by a real estate debacle that left a giant dirt crater in the heart of the city’s central shopping district, practically at its doorstep.

That hole has since been filled with Millennium Tower Boston, a soaring luxury high-rise where the sale of a $37.5 million penthouse condominium recently shattered city price records. And more luxury construction is planned for the neighborhood.

That resurgence and the associated spike in property values might make it a smart time for the department store to consider cashing in.

It also comes at a moment when online retail is disrupting the industry and traditional commerce.

Here come the mixed messages.

Department stores now compete with the e-retail world, including, which sells many of the same housewares as Macy’s and has been increasingly selling clothing, said Tom Caporaso, chief executive of Clarus Commerce, which offers a free shipping service for Macy’s and other retailers available to consumers who pay a subscription fee.

“The shift in e-commerce, and the increase in online spending, is definitely pushing this move,” to close stores, he said.

Caporaso also said Macy’s business has been whittled down by shoppers who turned to bargain stores such as TJ Maxx and HomeGoods during the recession and never returned to old shopping ways.

That's because the job and money never came back.

Winning new customers will be key to Macy’s future. The chain earned $11 million, or 3 cents per share, in the quarter ending July 30, compared to $217 million, or 64 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. Revenue fell 3.9 percent to $5.87 billion.

Revenue fell? That's more important than profit.

The company has already been closing stores, including 41 in the last fiscal year.

It remains the largest department store chain in the nation with 26 locations in Massachusetts. Last year it closed two locations at malls in Lanesborough and Springfield, said Edgar Dworsky, founder of the website

Dworsky said it would be unthinkable for Macy’s to close the Downtown Crossing location, particularly as the area becomes more attractive to retailers as well-heeled residents move in.

He said there’s still a strong market for old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores, even in an era of increased online shopping and Amazon Prime, because consumers still compare prices and theirs are competitive.


“It would be a total shock,” he said of a closure in Downtown Crossing. “A shock of shocks.”

Yet there are good reasons why retailers scale back on floor space, said Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst at Cambridge-based Forrester, an advisory firm.

The apparel category is increasingly competitive, she said, with players including Amazon cutting into business. And about 20 percent or more of department stores’ sales are now from online and e-commerce channels.

Exactly what that means for Macy’s in Massachusetts is not yet clear, she said, but the retail landscape is changing.

“In such a market environment, it becomes harder to justify a large number of physical stores,” she said. “Macy’s would be smart to try to monetize the real estate.”

That means sell off the property, and so much for old-fashioned brick and mortar, 'eh?


"Nordstrom Inc., the largest US luxury department-store chain, posted second-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates, helped by higher sales at its off-price Rack chain. Earnings were 67 cents a share in the quarter, the Seattle-based company said in a statement Thursday. Analysts predicted 57 cents, on average. Sales slipped 1.4 percent to $3.65 billion, just missing the $3.68 billion projected. Nordstrom has been investing in its Rack business and building its e-commerce offerings as shoppers shift their spending online and to discount retailers. With mall traffic remaining sluggish, Nordstrom also has been slashing costs and reducing its capital investments. The retailer expanded its loyalty program as well, opening it to all shoppers, rather than just those using a Nordstrom credit card. Net sales for the Rack brand — which includes the chain’s website and HauteLook — rose 11 percent in the quarter."

Sales slipped but they rose and mall traffic is sluggish.

"US employers advertised more openings and hired more people in June, adding to evidence that the job market has rebounded from a brief soft patch in the spring."

"Slightly fewer people sought US unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs are low and employers are probably adding new jobs."


Of course, this is the same government that says the deficit went up because of a drop in business profits

Oh, yeah, they are still lying about the wars, too. 


No wonder we are all gloomy and unproductive when stocks are at record highs.

"AstraZeneca cancer drug selumetinib fails in lung trial" by Marthe Fourcade and Ketaki Gokhale Bloomberg News  August 09, 2016

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. said Friday its cancer medicine Opdivo failed in a study that would have been the basis for widely expanding its use, sending the stock of the US drug maker plummeting. Bristol-Myers, AstraZeneca, and others are betting on a new generation of treatments that harness the immune system to battle cancer and kindle sales growth. Unlike Opdivo, selumetinib isn’t one of those.

The study results are disappointing but the financial impact will be ‘‘negligible,’’ AstraZeneca spokeswoman Karen Birmingham said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Not so for Array BioPharma Inc., which sold the rights to the drug to AstraZeneca in 2003. The company’s shares fell 18 percent to $3.65 in trading before US exchanges opened. Under the agreement, Array stood to receive development milestones and royalties on product sales.

AstraZeneca is working on immunotherapies that may challenge Bristol-Myers’s Opdivo. The experimental treatment durvalumab, for example, may be worth investigating in combination with selumetinib, according to Birmingham.

Treatments for lung cancer could represent a market of $10 billion to $15 billion a year in developed economies, Tim Anderson, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein LLC, estimated in a report this week....

I gotta catch my breath.


"Valeant shares have record day as investors get relief, for now" by Linda A. Johnson Associated Press  August 09, 2016

Drug maker Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a fast-growing Wall Street darling until its price-hiking business strategy made it a symbol of pharmaceutical company greed, said it’s undergoing a restructuring as its new CEO attempts to return the debt-laden company to growth and respectability — without big price increases.

‘‘We have begun the process to stabilize, turn around, and transform Valeant’’ into a new company over the next several years, Joseph C. Papa, who became chief executive three months ago, said during a conference call to discuss a money-losing second quarter with results far below Wall Street expectations.

The maker of Bausch & Lomb contact lenses and toenail fungus fighter Jublia said its turnaround plan includes boosting sales of its dermatology, eye care, and gastrointestinal medicines; improving its pipeline of experimental drugs in those categories; and using its cash more efficiently.

Analysts on the call, some sounding skeptical the Canadian company’s behavior has changed much, peppered Valeant executives with questions about their plan, assumptions underlying rosy performance projections, and progress repairing tattered relations with insurers, doctors, and patients. Many were alienated by years of repeated, aggressive price increases for Valeant medicines.

Papa said he’s confident Valeant’s ‘‘future is bright,’’ given its new strategy, numerous appointments and promotions to top management announced Monday, and the replacement of 10 of its 12 board members.

Shuffling deck chairs fixes all!

Investors, hurt as Valeant stock lost more than 90 percent of its value the past year, seemed reassured that Valeant reaffirmed projections for 2016 earnings and shares jumped.

Investors like to be lied to.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., based in Laval, Quebec, has been under a microscope for repeatedly buying other drug companies and rights to older medicines with little or no competition, then quickly jacking drug prices up threefold or more, without improving those drugs or investing much on developing new ones.

Yeah, they never developed a thing.  It was a hostile takeover and private equity outfit from the start.

Its spate of acquisitions and soaring revenue propelled its stock through the roof, but it ran up a staggering $30 billion in debt — roughly three times its annual revenue.

As soaring drug prices became a hot election-year political issue, Valeant has been hit with criticism from presidential candidates, plus three ongoing federal probes into its accounting and business practices. That heat forced it to say it will now stick with small price hikes as it pushed out J. Michael Pearson, the CEO behind the buy-and-hike strategy....

Yeah, now they are going to only gouge you a little. What $cum.


'Twas a Valeant Effort but....

"Valeant reportedly under criminal investigation" by Caroline Chen Bloomberg News  August 11, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — Valeant Pharmaceuticals International is the subject of a criminal probe by federal prosecutors, who are investigating whether the drugmaker defrauded insurers by hiding its ties to a mail-order pharmacy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The US attorney’s office in New York is pursuing an unusual legal theory, previously unreported, that Valeant and the closely linked mail-order-pharmacy, Philidor Rx Services, allegedly defrauded insurers by hiding their close relationship, the Journal said, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter.

“We cannot comment on rumors about third party investigations, and cannot comment on or speculate about the possible course of any investigation,” Valeant spokeswoman Laurie Little said. “Valeant has been cooperating and continues to cooperate with the ongoing Southern District of New York investigation.”

Prosecutors are looking into whether Philidor made false statements to insurers about its ties to Valeant, the Wall Street Journal said.

Philidor, a specialty pharmacy now defunct, filled prescriptions for Valeant dermatology drugs such as toenail fungus treatment Jublia.

Prosecutors are investigating whether insurers thought Philidor was neutral rather than in the service of Valeant, the Journal reported.

Valeant came under scrutiny last year over issues including its business practices, particularly its relationship with Philidor, which was helping boost drug sales. The drugmaker severed its ties with Philidor in October, following reports about tactics the mail-order pharmacy allegedly used to gain more insurance reimbursements for Valeant medicines.

They included submitting claims using other pharmacies’ identification numbers and altering codes on some doctors’ prescriptions.

That looks criminal to me.

Specialty pharmacies are common in the drug industry, where they fill prescriptions typically for complex drugs, such as those that require cold storage. Valeant’s relationship with Philidor was closer than usual. Valeant had paid $100 million for an option to buy Philidor for nothing any time in the next 10 years, and consolidated Philidor’s financials into its own.

Valeant has disclosed in filings that it’s the subject of investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Attorney’s offices in Massachusetts and New York, among others.


No word about the buyout at Biogen yet, but the Eli Lilly drug for breast cancer failed.

"Viacom credit rating in danger of cut" by Lucas Shaw Bloomberg News  August 11, 2016

LOS ANGELES — Viacom Inc. needs to slash its dividend and improve its poor performance to avoid a cut to its credit rating, Moody’s Investors Service said, changing its outlook to negative from stable.

Viacom, owner of MTV and Comedy Central, was spared an immediate downgrade of its Baa2 rating during the ongoing dispute over control of the company, Moody’s said Tuesday in a statement. A court fight between controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone and chief executive Philippe Dauman could lead to a shift in strategy, Moody’s said.

Credit-rating companies are reexamining Viacom as it combats dual crises: a flagging business and a fight for control. Fitch downgraded Viacom last week. The company paid out more than $600 million in dividends in the past year and has net debt of $12.1 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Moody’s calculates Viacom’s debt at about 4.1 times earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization, and says the company needs to reduce that ratio below 3.25 in the next 18 months.

Viacom, based in New York, declined to comment.

The stock has declined 47 percent over the past two years as the company has suffered steep declines in viewership of its US cable networks. Advertisers have followed young viewers from Viacom’s channels to YouTube and Facebook, leading to eight straight quarters of shrinking domestic advertising sales.

“Lack of signs of improvement in operating momentum, further deterioration in credit metrics and importantly, continuation of ill afforded dividend payments in the face of diminishing financial strength, together are cause for the negative outlook,” Moody’s said.

Dauman has attempted to improve the company’s liquidity by selling a stake in Paramount Pictures. Representatives of Redstone say he strongly opposes any sale.

If Dauman prevails in court, Moody’s said, Viacom will have sufficient liquidity from the sale proceeds and dividend reduction to reduce debt and bring leverage to a level consistent with its current rating....


That is the first word I read all vacation. 

So what else is on the dial?

"Television viewers know there’s a mind-boggling array of shows to attempt to watch. With a greater supply of US television than can be profitably produced, the industry is ‘‘ballooning into a condition of oversupply,’’John Landgraf, the chief executive of FX Networks, told a TV critics meeting Tuesday. Landgraf did a big-picture assessment of the expanding TV landscape last year, focusing increased attention on a world that’s moved far beyond the once-true saying that there’s hundreds of channels and nothing worth watching. This has been characterized as a second ‘‘golden age’’ of TV."

There was a first?

A key driver is Netflix, and I wonder how Bourne did this weekend.

Fox News names Abernethy, Shine as copresidents

That's Fox for you, and I didn't know Ben-Hur was Jewish.

"Walt Disney Co. reported third-quarter profit that beat analysts’ profit projections, buoyed by strong performances from films including “Captain America: Civil War” and “Finding Dory.” Sales at the world’s largest entertainment company increased 9 percent to $14.3 billion in the period ended July 2, compared with estimates of $14.2 billion. The results underscore the benefit of Disney’s diverse portfolio. Profit at the film division is helping to counter slower growth in TV, the company’s biggest business, and a drop in earnings from consumer products. Investors have been intently focused on the cable-TV business, home to ESPN and the Disney Channel, after Disney acknowledged losses of subscribers last year. Disney said subscriber losses continued in the quarter."

Despite the great movies

I'm hungry:

"Wendy’s is the latest major fast-food chain to report weaker-than-expected sales growth, with the hamburger company saying people aren’t dining out as much because it has gotten even cheaper to eat at home. The results from Wendy’s follow disappointing sales from other chains including McDonald’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks."

It's always been cheaper to eat at home so that's a bullsh** excuse. Were the economy really as good as the government and pre$$ paint it out to be then these fast food franchises sales would be up simply by sheer presence and volume. 

Is it too late for lunch? 

"Panera Bread Co., seeking an edge in an increasingly cutthroat fast-food industry, is removing artificial ingredients from its kids menu and calling out other chains for targeting young diners with meals that feature soda and french fries. Panera, which operates a chain of more than 2,000 cafes, has issued a ‘‘Kids Meal Promise,’’ saying that it won’t encourage children to drink soda, eat french fries, or use cartoon characters or toys to push its meals. The company will introduce its new kids menu next month using revamped recipes for items like turkey sandwiches and macaroni and cheese made without artificial preservatives or sweeteners. Panera’s kids meals have sides such as organic yogurt, apples, and sprouted-grain rolls. Drink options include water, organic milk, and juice. Last year, Panera said it would remove artificial additives from its entire menu by the end of 2016 and remains on track to achieve that goal, the company said."

That's what got Chipotle in trouble.

Did you see the agenda for the days past?

"Wayfair’s stock plunges the most ever as loss widens" by Megan Woolhouse Globe Staff  August 09, 2016

Wayfair Inc.’s shares had their worst day ever on Tuesday after the online retailer reported a bigger-than-expected loss in the second quarter on a surge in expenses.

Wayfair’s chief financial officer, Michael D. Fleisher, said on a conference call with analysts and investors that costs were driven by increased hiring and new infrastructure that allowed the company to offer next-day and two-day delivery guarantees.

The company added 794 jobs in the quarter, and I'm shocked considering their upbeat advertising campaign on TV. Wayfarer's got just what you need!

The net loss for the quarter widened to $48.3 million. Sales at the company climbed to $786.9 million from $491.8 million, while operating expenses increased to $237.2 million from $140.3 million.

Does any of that math add up? How did they lose money?

The company added nearly 600,000 new active customers in the quarter, bringing its customer base to 6.7 million. There was also “strong repeat purchase behavior,” with 58 percent of orders coming from return customers.


That can't be good. Only a select few for a market? 

Chief executive and cofounder Niraj Shah said the company is taking “one-third to 40 percent of the US online dollar growth in our categories.”

“There is a secular shift underway as consumers shift home purchases away from brick-and-mortar stores and toward online purchases,” he said on the call.

There they go again! 

Whatever sells at a given point, 'eh?

The stock slide is evidence of investor frustration over when the company will reach profitability, said Oliver Wintermantel, a managing director at Evercore International Strategy & Investment Group in New York.

“I think investors were looking for better profitability in the back half of the year, including us,” Wintermantel said. But he said the wider loss does not signal deeper problems.

“If you look back at Amazon in 2014, you could have had the same reaction,” he said....


Big money now:

"Envisioning Bitcoin’s technology at the heart of global finance" by Nathaniel Popper New York Times   August 13, 2016

A new report from the World Economic Forum predicts that the underlying technology introduced by the virtual currency Bitcoin will come to occupy a central place in the global financial system.

A report released Friday by the forum, a convening organization for the global elite, is one of the strongest endorsements yet for a new technology — the blockchain — that has become the talk of the financial industry, despite the shadowy origins of Bitcoin.

Finally made the right call, huh?

Their endorsement of it means they've usurped its value and can charge usury.

“Rather than to stay at the margins of the finance industry blockchain will become the beating heart of it,” the head of financial services industries at the World Economic Forum, Giancarlo Bruno, said in a statement released with the report.

When do they start minting them?

Unlike existing financial ledgers or databases used by banks and other institutions, the blockchain is updated and maintained not by a single company or government. Instead it is run by a network of users. It’s akin to the way that Wikipedia is maintained by users around the globe.

Initially, bank executives shied away from endorsing Bitcoin because it had been used for drugs and crime.

Like that ever stopped them before!!

Now, however, many have focused on ways to create blockchains without using Bitcoins for transactions in any way.

This is attractive because blockchains — or “distributed ledgers,” as they are often described — could offer a new way to move money and track transactions across borders and other networks in a more secure, transparent, and effective way than the current system.

And I'm sure all the easier to hack.

Distributed ledgers are often viewed as most attractive to industries with businesses that lack a central institution they ca

The report estimates that 80 percent of banks around the world could start distributed ledger projects by next year. Large central banks are also studying how the blockchain will alter the way money moves around the globe.

But few real-world uses of the blockchain have come to fruition, other than Bitcoin itself. That has led to some questions about whether the blockchain is the proverbial solution looking for a problem, rather than an innovation that will be used widely.

This is worth less than a penny.



Facebook blocks ad blockers, but strives to make ads more relevant 

You don't need one here and never will. I'll quit before monied interests are on this site.

Tech giants are downshifting on innovation

Bill Maris steps down as CEO of Alphabet’s GV

Now I know my ABCs.

Twitter to sublease space at its San Francisco headquarters

"AT&T has agreed to pay nearly $7.8 million to settle government allegations of unauthorized third-party charges for directory assistance services not provided. The Federal Communications Commission on Monday announced the settlement with the Dallas-based telecommunications giant. Billing for unauthorized charges is known as ‘‘cramming.’’ An FCC statement says AT&T allowed scammers to charge some customers about $9 per month for a sham directory assistance service. The scheme was uncovered by federal agents investigating drug-related crimes and money laundering. The FCC says AT&T received a fee from some companies that added the charges to customer bills but never provided the services. AT&T will issue refunds, totaling $6.8 million, to current and former consumers who were charged the fee since 2012. AT&T also agreed to pay a $950,000 government fine."

"Snapchat has removed a filter for photos that some say promoted racist Asian stereotypes. The social media app’s filters, also called lenses, allow users to change their appearance with silly faces or morph themselves into cartoonish animals and other characters. A filter that Snapchat says was inspired by Japanese animation placed slanted eyes on a user’s face. The filter was quickly derided by Snapchat users on Twitter. One Asian-American user, Grace Sparapani, said in a Twitter message she was ‘‘shocked by how much it looked like the classic cartoon caricatures of Asians — squinty eyes and buckteeth.’’ Los Angeles-based Snapchat told USA Today the filter has been taken down and won’t be used again. The company says its filters ‘‘are meant to be playful and never to offend.’’

And just like that, it was gone.


Endowments and foundations latest to bail on hedge funds

Many hedge funds are finding it increasingly difficult to beat the market and keep clients who are paying high fees

Google learns that cool isn’t cheap

I'm amazed.