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Businesses React to Obama’s Upcoming Trip to Cuba

With Obama’s upcoming visit to Havana, a number of companies are trying to complete deals with Cuba. This includes AT&T Inc, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., and Marriott International Inc.

This will be the first visit to Cuba by a US president in almost 90 years. AT&T is working to complete a mobile communications agreement with Cuba’s telecoms Etecas. Starwood says that it “has applied for authorization from the U.S. Treasury Department to operate hotels in Cuba. We see many opportunities for the expansion of our brands into Cuba at this inflection point, and look forward to building long-term relationships and welcoming travelers into our hotels in this dynamic market.”

The Marriott spokesman Thomas Marder said, “We are optimistic that we are going to get a green light soon from the U.S. government to have hotels under the Marriott flag in Cuba.”

Certainly, other companies are dabbling in the idea of doing business with Cuba, but many are still wary of the half-century old embargo and the Cuban government’s failure to enact economic reforms of any significance.

Obama has called for the lifting of the embargo but this can only be done through Congress, and the Republicans have said they will not be doing so.




Housing Prices Take a Beating

In January, new US single family home sales took a tumble from their 10 month high. This was particularly due to a dip in the West, although overall housing market recovery remains strong. The Commerce Department has reported that single-family home sales dropped 9.2% last month. In the West, where there has been a sharp rise in home prices, sales went down 32.1% to the lowest level since July of 2014. This was the largest decline they’ve seen since May of 2010.

In the Northeast, the sales rose 3.4% and sales were up 1.8% in the South. However, sales decreased 5.9% in the Midwest. While the plunge was dramatic, economists did not seem too worried about it.

As Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York said, “Through some of the noise in the data, it appears that home sales are continuing to trend higher over time off of historically low levels. We maintain our view that the housing market will continue to recover.”

Xerox Corp. Splitting Into Two Companies

Xerox Corp. is soon splitting into two companies, one for the printer operations and the other for business process outsourcing. They have, for years, tried to integrate the businesses and have finally decided to divide into this model. Carl Icahn will have three board seats on the outsourcing company as he tweeted on Friday that “the separation will greatly enhance value for Xerox Corp shareholders.”

As Xerox Chief Executive Officer Ursula Burns said, “The reason why it was easy to get to a decision is because we do have two businesses that rotate around two different axes.”

Xerox’s shares have fallen more than 30% in the last 12 months and it has been trying to turn itself around by focusing on software and services. Burns explained that the leadership and the names of the new companies have not yet been decided.

Does the Avon Lady Sing the Blues?

makeup-brushes-824707_960_720Avon Products rebuffed a $10.7 billion offer by Coty over three years ago and since then their business has been on the rocks. This week, Cerberus Capital Management agreed to take their North American business. The North American business has been at the heart of Avon’s problems, weighing down the rest of the company.

Sheri McCoy, the chief executive of Avon Products, explained that the Avon portfolio outside of North America represents 86% of their revenue in the last nine months.

As Ms. McCoy explained, “We believe that the separation of North America is the best way to ensure that both businesses have an unencumbered path to profitability and growth. This was a key principle as we considered alternatives.”

Learn more about Avon’s plans and what Cerberus has planned with their take-over.

Unemployment Levels Looking Up

In good news, the Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell even more than expected last week. This was almost a 42 year low, as the state unemployment benefits dropped 5000 for 267,000 for the week ending December 19th. This was close to the levels last seen in late 1973, according to the Labor Department.

The claims report showed that those receiving benefits declined 47,000 to 2.20 million in the week that ended on December 12th.

Read more and get the details with this article at Reuters.






Mobile Hits the Mark on Cyber Monday

Mobile device shopping accounted for more than a quarter of the $3 billion in sales over Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday was the biggest ever day for online sales in the US according to the Adobe Digital Index report. This was attributed to larger than expected discounts and to a demand for electronics and toys in particular.

There were 200 million visitors who visited 4,500 retail websites on Cyber Monday. Last year, mobile devices accounted for 19% of the total sales on Cyber Monday, and this year that number hit 26%.

What were the top selling items? Lego’s Star Wars collection, the Barbie Dream House, the Samsung 4K television set and Apple Inc.’s iPad Mini.

Interestingly, even though more people were shopping from their mobiles, they were spending less. On average, the smartphone shopper spent $102.02 on each order, which was below the $128 average spent by desktop users. Scot Wingo, executive chairman of ChannelAdvisor shared his frustration when he said, “The fact that we haven’t improved the mobile conversion rate is a little depressing to be honest.”

Which stores faired the best? Inc. had a 21.1% rise in Cyber Monday sales according to ChannelAdvisor. Discounts through Amazon averaged 40%.

Target Earning Results

Target just issued its earning results, reporting $.086 earnings per share (EPS) for the quarter. They hit the Zacks’ consensus estimate of $.086, as reported by Target earned $17.60 billion during the quarter, just over the consensus estimate of $17.57 billion. Their revenues are up 2.1% on a year-over-year basis.

Thursday, they opened at 69.78. Their quarterly divided will be paid on Thursday, December 10th. As the article explained, “Shareholders of record on Wednesday, November 18th will be given a $0.56 dividend. The ex-dividend date is Monday, November 16th. This represents a $2.24 dividend on an annualized basis and a yield of 3.21%.”

Major Gift: Northwestern University School of Law

In recent, and very exciting news for Northwestern University School of Law, alumnus J.B. Pritzker and his wife, M.K. Pritzker, have made a $100 million gift to the 156 year old school. The law school will change its name to the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, as this is the single largest gift ever made to any law school.

Certainly, this will have an impact on everyone at for Northwestern University School of Law, from the students to the adjunct professors like Geoff Richards and the senior lecturers like Herbert N. Beller.

The announcement about the gift was made at the Law School on October 22, 2015 by Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and Law School Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez. The gift will support several social justice centers at the Law School including the Center on Wrongful Convictions, the Children and Family Justice Center, the Center on International Human Rights and the Environmental Law Center. The gift will also permanently endow and rename the Law School’s Entrepreneurship Law Center as the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurial Law Center.

As Dean Rodriguez said, “Our increasingly complex and dynamic world demands lawyers who are trained to tackle difficult legal and policy problems and to work imaginatively at the interface of law, business and technology. This extraordinary gift will help provide the financial foundation for this law school to produce a new breed of highly skilled, adaptive lawyers—creative, constructive problem-solvers armed with multidisciplinary skills and resolutely committed to social justice and the rule of law.”

The Pritzker gift will have a long-standing impact on everyone at Northwestern, including faculty and adjunct faculty, from Ronald J. Allen and Karen Alter to Geoff Richards and Robert P. Burns. As President Schapiro said, “J.B. and M.K. are such good friends of the University, and their extraordinary commitment will allow a bold future for an already great law school.”

Business Advice Worth Following: An Interview with Ted Virtue

Whether you’re already on the corporate ladder or trying to climb your way up it, it’s always helpful to hear from those who have come before you. Here, OnWire interviews Ted Virtue, Founder & CEO of MidOcean Partners. This is part of their Open Door video series with Skiddy von Stade. Learn more about Ted Virtue’s business philosophy and how he got to where he is today.

Marc Lasry on Becoming an Aspiring Entrepreneur

Marc Lasry

Marc Lasry

Marc Lasry who heads an investment firm, recently gave a few tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.  He said: “everybody will tell you it’s very difficult to do. The only advice I would have is of course it’s difficult to do; that’s why not many people do it.  But if you believe you have something that’s different and unique, then go do it. And, ultimately, the market will either agree or disagree with you.” He brings expertise from a number of fiscal organizations, including when he was co-Director at Cowen & Company, which worked in a variety of fields including the hedge fund industry.

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