Sunday, May 31, 2015

Orion Launches Open-Source Client Portal

Orion announced in early May that it has launched a redesigned client portal that uses open-source code so other providers can build their own pages to integrate into the site.

“We’ve had a client portal since we started our business years ago. As web technology evolved, we felt like, ‘Hey, depending on the size of the tablet or the device that somebody is looking at this on, we need to make the design and menu systems responsive,” Eric Clarke, president and founder of Orion, told ThinkAdvisor on Wednesday.

“All those things are nice, but we have a lot of other systems that we interact with here at Orion to help our advisors be efficient. What we thought would be really neat would be to open up the code for the portal to outside integration partners to add additional pages and contribute back to the project.”

Clarke said Orion has reached out to providers like InStream, MoneyGuidePro and Finance Logix to contribute code for the project. So far, more than 40 firms have been set up to access GitHub, where the portal code is stored, to build integrated pages for the portal.

“GitHub allows us to share that code and information, share the project with our vendor partners and allow them to come back in and contribute their own pages,” Clark said. “The development effort really has become more of a community effort. We’re really excited in the coming months to see the integration pages that our partners provide.”

The portal integrates account aggregation from Intuit, which allows clients to add data on accounts not managed by their advisor.

“They enter their user name and password and hit enter, and those accounts will be added to the list of accounts,” Clarke said.

When clients log in to the portal, they’ll see their accounts listed on the left-hand side of the screen with a summary of their holdings. Clients can view their assets by category or class, and can view the underlying holdings that make up those classes.

“In addition to seeing everything in the household, they can select one of the [individual] accounts and the screen will refresh.” Advisors can set up household accounts that include all the individual accounts for each member, or “if they have a household that has a unique situation and they want to keep things separate, they can set up two households,” Clarke said.

“The portfolio tab allows the client to come in, interact with their portfolio, get positions, performance, cost basis and transaction-level information without having to run a report. It’s just an interactive, on-screen experience.”

Clients can also link their accounts on Dropbox or Box so they can share documents with their advisor easily, Clarke said.

Since launching the portal on May 1, more than 500 advisors have logged in for training sessiona, Clarke said. “Firms are out there beta testing it right now before they go live with their client accounts.”


Check out Advisors ‘Struggling’ to Get Most Out of Social Media as Its Popularity Grows: Study on ThinkAdvisor.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Citi Cuts Bed, Bath To Hold On Weak Forecast, Earnings Growth

On Thursday, Bed, Bath & Beyond (BBBY) after its earnings forecast disappointed. Citigroup's Kate McShane also downgraded the stock from Buy to Neutral on the news, lowering her target price from $85 to $72.

McShane writes that excluding the effect of her conservative assumptions for share repurchases, earnings per share growth looks to be virtually flattish for the next two years. The announcement Thursday night indicates that "the company is facing a 2nd straight year of top-line deceleration driven by both slowing new store openings and modest comp growth." Moreover, she writes, she doesn't see an inflection point for gross margin in the next year, as she had previously thought possible, and she is concerned about the "ongoing increasing negative impact from couponing."

She notes that while investments in technology may improve Bed, Bath's omni-channel experience, this strategy will continue to weigh on EPS, and she now likes Williams Sonoma (WSM) as a better way to get exposure to favorable trends in home furnishings.

Her new estimates:

Lowering our FY15 EPS from $5.36 to $5.04 –We are taking down our EPS estimates on a slower comp environment over the next few years which will make it more difficult to leverage expenses, especially in light of continued investments in the omni-channel experience. Plus, the mix shift toward lower margin products may persist and the couponing reliance appears to be a permanent overhang. Lastly, the square footage expansion story for FY15 was less than we had expected and the opportunity to get a sales lift from square footage growth may be waning.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What Retailers Are Saying That Makes Me Believe Economic Growth Is Slowing

Conditions in the U.S. economy are deteriorating fairly quickly. The economic data suggests it’s slowing down. We already saw the U.S. economy decelerate in 2013 compared to 2012; now, investors are asking if this is going to be the case in 2014 as well.

All sorts of businesses in the U.S. economy are worried. This is not a good sign when you are hoping for robust growth.

Homebuilders in the U.S. economy have become very skeptical. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) witnessed a massive drop in February. The index, which looks at the confidence of homebuilders in the U.S. economy, plunged from 56 in the previous month to 46. Any reading below 50 on the HMI means homebuilders expect market conditions to be poor. (Source: “Poor Weather Puts a Damper on Builder Confidence in February,” National Association of Home Builders web site, February 18, 2014.)

Also Read: NYSE holidays 2014

Unfortunately, homebuilders aren’t the only ones who are worried and suggesting the U.S. economy isn’t going in the desired direction.

Retailers with major operations in the U.S. economy are feeling the same. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT)—one of the largest retailers—lowered its profit guidance for the fiscal fourth quarter, ended on January 31, 2014. The CEO of the company, Charles Holley, said, “We now anticipate that our underlying EPS [earnings per share] for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014 will be at or slightly below the low end of our range of $1.60 to $1.70.” He added, “For the full year, we expect underlying EPS to be at or slightly below the low end of our range of $5.11 to $5.21.” (Source: “Walmart updates FY14 underlying EPS guidance for fourth quarter and full year,” Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. web site, January 31, 2014.) In other words, the company feels that it will not be earning the same profits as it previously predicted. Wal-Mart’s fourth-quarter results were due out this morning.

We have also heard from other major retailers in the U.S. economy, such as Macy’s, Inc. (NYSE/M), regarding their plans to cut costs by reducing their labor force and closing down their retail outlets.

You see, businesses are good at seeing which direction the U.S. economy is heading because they are closest to the consumers and can tell quickly if the trend changes. If they are worried, it means consumer spending in the U.S. economy—a major portion of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)—isn’t as robust.

Looking at the sentiment of businesses in the U.S. economy, I am not convinced in the notion that the economy will grow at a faster pace; to me, it will not be a surprise if the U.S. GDP grows at an even slower rate in 2014 than it did in 2013.

Investors should be looking at what businesses are saying as a sign of caution. It’s also a good time for investors to take some profits off the table if they have any. In addition, if investors are holding a losing position, they may want to consider taking a loss and raising some cash instead.

This article What Retailers Are Saying That Makes Me Believe Economic Growth Is Slowing was originally published at Daily Gains Letter

The following article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

Posted-In: Economics Markets

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Biggest Dow Losers of Last Week: Jan. 27-31

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Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

January is in the books, and the major indexes really dug themselves a hole to start the year. In the latest bad week on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) lost 180 points, or 1.13%, while the S&P 500 fell 0.43%, and the Nasdaq slid 0.58%. With only one week in January in the black, the Dow is down 877 points, or 5.29%, year to date. Its peers didn't fare much better for the month, with the S&P down 65 points, or 3.55%, to start out the year and the Nasdaq down 72 points, or 1.74%. The S&P, like the Dow, marked just one week in positive territory in January, while the Nasdaq managed two weeks.

The big macro news this past week was the Federal Reserve's decision to continue tapering, with the announcement that it will reduce its asset purchases to $65 billion in February, down from $75 billion in January and the $85 billion it had been buying every month before that. We also got the second installment of the third-quarter gross domestic product figure, which came in at 4.1% growth, compared with to the 3.2% the first reading indicated. And we heard a number of consumer sentiment and confidence reports, all of them indicating that confidence levels are high but that consumers may not as optimistic as they were in December. 

Before we get to the Dow's biggest losers of the week, let's look at its top performer, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) , which rose 8.98%. Shares began to rise on Monday after the company reported earnings and never looked back. Although revenue dropped 10% during the quarter, net income was much higher than Wall Street was expecting. The board also approved a $10 billion share-buyback program, and management said it's starting to see an improving world economy. 

Last week's big losers
Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) closed the week 3.23% lower, enough to make it the Dow's third worst performer of the week. There was very little negative news pertaining to the company, but a number of investors have been mentioning how overpriced the stock looks. Shares of this slow-growing consumer-goods giant are currently trading at 20.5 times past earnings, or 16.5 times future expected earnings -- reasonable for a high-flying tech stock, perhaps, but not for a company with just 2% revenue growth. The stock does pay a stable and reliable 3% dividend yield, but income investors continue to rotate out of dividend-paying stocks in anticipation for higher Treasury yields, as the Federal Reserve continues its tapering and allowing rates to slowly rise.

Coming in second place, after falling slightly more than 4%, is Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) . The big decline came on Friday, after reporting a 4% revenue drop and a 32% net earnings decline compared with the same quarter last year. Management said lower production and weak global fuel costs played a large role in the results. To counteract these types of problems in the coming year, management is looking to cut some $2 billion from its expenses. A high amount of uncertainty about where fuel prices and production levels will be six months to a year from now had investors concerned about the company's future earnings. Those are the types of risk that oil and gas investors always need to watch out for.  

Finally, this past week's biggest Dow loser was Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) , as shares fell 8.33%. Boeing also reported earnings this week, and while revenue of $23.8 billion and earnings per share of $1.88 were both better than what the company posted last year, investors were disappointed with management's future guidance. The company is forecasting revenue growth of 1%-2% in 2014, which is not something an investor who bought shares at a valuation of 23 times earnings wants to hear. The expected slow growth in the coming year may continue to have an effect on Boeing, but if you bought shares based on the idea that the company has hundreds of billions of dollars in its backlog, you should sit tight and ride out this pullback.  

The other Dow losers this week:

3M, down 1.55% American Express, down 2.22% AT&T, down 0.29% Cisco, down 1.3% ExxonMobil, down 2.83% Goldman Sachs, down 2.1% Home Depot, down 2.91% Intel, down 1.08% International Business Machines, down 1.64% Johnson & Johnson, down 2.36% McDonald's, down 0.27% Coca-Cola, down 2.62% Travelers, down 0.4% Visa, down 2.63% Walt Disney, down 0.15%

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hangover Time for Stocks as S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average Slump

So here’s the hangover after the party, as 3M (MMM) and Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) outweigh gains in U.S. Steel (X), Chico’s FAS (CHS) and Wal-Mart (WMT).

Bloomberg News

The S&P 500 has dropped 0.8% to 1,832.77 at 12:01 p.m., while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 123 points, or 0.7% to 16,4547.13.

Why is the market dropping? It’s certainly not the economic data, which indicates further strength in 2014. Initial jobless claims fell to 339,000, beating forecasts for 344,000, but the numbers have been erratic–and not necessarily trustworthy– thanks to the holiday season. The ISM Manufacturing Index fell to 57 in December, beating forecasts for 56.8, an indication that the manufacturing recovery is rolling along. Jefferies’ Thomas Simons explains:

Recent data suggests that the manufacturing recovery is gaining traction once again and that the combination of the government shutdown and the latest round of fiscal follies in Washington have had little more than a passing effect on the sector…We have been expecting an acceleration in manufacturing based on auto production, developments in the energy sector, and the strength of the housing recovery and we think that this acceleration will continue through the second half of the year to buoy overall economic growth.

Deutsche Bank’s Alan Ruskin notes that the ISM order minus inventories is “the highest since mid 2010 – an encouraging forward looking growth signal.”

Considering the general strength of the day, why are investors feeling down today? Bloomberg blames Wells Fargo’s downgrade of Apple (AAPL), which has weighed on tech shares today. The Wall Street Journal says its the fault of weak overseas markets. Considering that a number of last year’s top-performing stocks are falling today, it could just be early-year rebalancing.

Consider: Wal-Mart, which returned just 18% in 2013, has gained 0.6% to $79.18 at 11:59 a.m., despite having to recall Chinese donkey meat. 3m, which rose 54% last year, has fallen 1.4% to $138.30. United States Steel, meanwhile, has gained 4% to $30.68after it was upgraded to Buy from Hold by KeyBanc. It rose 25% in 2013 including reinvested dividends. Pioneer Natural Resources, which advanced 73% last year, has dropped 3% to $178.54today. Chico’s FAS, which returned just 3.4% in 2013, has gained 3.5% to 19.49 after being upgraded by Jefferies.

Is it out with the old and in with the new?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

All I Want for Christmas Is a Bigger Cellphone Battery

A recent poll on tech enthusiast website Slashdot shows what tech-savvy consumers really want out of their smartphones nowadays. The poll may not be very scientific, but the voice of 32,000 tech enthusiasts should still count for something.

Apple can stop making thinner iPhones and squeeze a bigger battery into that extra space instead. Microsoft might be able to snag some mobile market share by lowering prices on its Lumia phones. There will always be a niche market for high-end models where price is no object, but high performance and the correct handset size don't seem to matter outside that specialized market.

Huge volume will come from making these two changes above all else. The only handset designer that seems to get it right now is Google (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) , as shown in the low-cost but very capable Moto G by Big G's Motorola division.

In the video below, Erin Miller asks Fool contributor Anders Bylund what this smartphone poll means and what it can teach investors in the mobile industry.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Having enthusiastic employees takes creativity

Dear Gladys: I took your workshop on hiring good help. I agree that the best employees are the ones who are enthusiastic. But, how can an employer make sure that his enthusiastic employees stay that way. Some of my people who have been here for a long time seem to be rather ho-hum. In other words, they send the message that it's just another day on the job. What to do? — R. J.

It's a good idea to begin with making sure that your employees feel like they are working in a safe and stable environment. If your staff members don't feel like they have a secure job position, that alone can wipe out the enthusiasm of the best of people.

Enthusiasm is fueled by creativity and imagination, and as a good leader and employer it is up to you to see to it that both are fueled.

Take a close look at how you manage your company. Do you hold the reins tight and not allow your employees to self-manage? Employees need to feel a sense of freedom in helping a company reach its goals and objectives.

Are you including your people in decision-making and goal setting? This can often be an overlooked area. Some employers think that only they can make goals and decisions. The truth is that many times it's the people on the front line that have a clearer vision of what's going on. Sometimes it's the decisions made by management without involving those on the front line that that can kill enthusiasm.

ENTREPRENEURIAL TIGHTROPE: Bosses taking credit for your ideas

I remember going to a hair salon where the owner was constantly mailing coupons to her steady customers. Her efforts were not bringing in any new business. A couple of employees kept telling her to offer discounts to senior citizens, especially since two senior living developments had been built within walking distant to their location. The owner felt she knew better and ignored the suggestion.

The stylists continued to make suggestions, and the owner continued to ignore them. They suggested other minor changes that would h! ave increased business, such as adding a manicurist. The owner reminded them that she was the owner of the shop and if they didn't like how she operated they could leave. They became indifferent about their jobs

Their indifference didn't last long. They formed a partnership and opened a hair salon that offers senior citizen discounts. They have a manicurist and pedicurist on duty daily, and the business is booming. They also ask their employees for creative input to help the business to continue to grow.

The company that they left soon went out of business. The owner failed to see that the community was changing, which was something her employees recognized. Perhaps if she had at least considered their suggestions her business might have lasted.

If you really want to go deeper into ways of keeping employees fired up, justimagine what you would want for yourself if you were in their shoes.

Gladys Edmunds, founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh, is an author and coach/consultant in business development. E-mail her at

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Citigroup Maintains “Neutral” Rating, Raises PT on Illinois Tool Works (ITW)

Citigroup announced on Wednesday that it was maintaining a “Neutral” rating on the Glenview, IL-based industrial conglomerate, Illinois Tool Works (ITW), but went on to raise its price target for the company.

Deane Dray, an analyst with the firm, noted “Following its disclosure in February 2013 that it was reviewing strategic alternatives for its $2.4 bil Industrial Packaging business, ITW officially announced on Sept-24 that the sale process has begun. In an incremental positive, the company declared that all the dilution from the divestiture would be offset by buybacks and that additional balance sheet leverage will be used to fund the program.” Given the lagged benefit of the expected buyback, Citigroup raised its price target on the stock from $75 to $80 a share.

Illinois Tool Works shares traded lower on Wednesday, shedding 0.97% on the day. The stock is up 27% YTD.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Banks Foresee Endless Profits Five Years After Crisis

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the nation's largest banks disclosed in a series of self-administered stress tests on Monday that they expect to be profitable during the next financial crisis.What a difference five years makes.It wasn't so long ago that all of the largest lenders in the U.S. were either in search of life saving financial support or on the verge of accepting billions in buffer capital that the government shoved into bank coffers as part of its Troubled Asset Relief Program. Now, banks expect that they will be able to maintain minimum capital ratios generally in excess of 9%, in the event of another market crash and severe recession over the next two years. Many even expect to remain profitable.Stress test results released by large lenders on September 15 indicate a double-edged sword. There is no denying that firms such as Morgan Stanley (MS) have transformed their business and are in a far healthier state after barely surviving the 2008 financial crisis. However, as expectations continue to rise for the banking industry's performance during a next bout of economic tumult, investors and C-Suites may be returning to the state of collective overconfidence that plagued the industry five years ago.Morgan Stanley, US Bancorp (USB) and PNC Financial (PNC) now expect to report a profit in the next crisis. Last year Morgan Stanley forecast a stressed loss of $12.6 billion, however, those projections were before the firm took control of brokerage Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. JPMorgan (JPM) expects to report a minimal $300,000.00 loss in the next crisis while Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) have both dramatically reduced their stressed loss forecasts.Optimism isn't uniform across the banking sector.Goldman Sachs  (GS) expects to report large losses in a time of crisis, a contrast to its more wealth-management oriented competitor Morgan Stanley. Wells Fargo, meanwhile, increased its expected loss to $3.8 billion as a! result of lower pre-provision net revenue. The nation's largest mortgage lender still expects loan losses on its mortgage and commercial lending operations to be far lower than those projected by the Fed in its 2013 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR). Indeed, it is troubling that there is a large divergence between expected losses in banks' internal stress tests versus those made by the Federal Reserve in its annual CCAR. Consider that while JPMorgan expects minimal losses in a stressed environment, the Fed's last CCAR projected $32.2 billion in losses. It forecast far higher losses on the bank's loans and activity. The same holds true at Bank of America and, to a lesser extent, Citigroup.Overall, the Fed projects that the nation's four largest banks would lose nearly $140 billion in a time of crisis, while internal estimates released by those banks on Monday only forecast about $50 billion in losses. Analysts generally believe the next round of stress tests from the Fed in March of 2014 will move closer to banking industry estimates, instead of vice versa."While capital standards lack uniform harmonization and will likely increase over the foreseeable future, we believe that today's relatively punitive capital levels will likely subside over time as the industry continues to build capital and the associated risks and economic landscape continue to change," Todd Hagerman, a Sterne Agee banking analyst wrote in a Tuesday client note. 

Analysts see rising forecasts of banking sector net income during a stressed environment as reinforcing expectations that firms will be able to increase their dividend and share buybacks in coming years. "Our two main observations are that capital ratios now appear even higher than previously estimated. And second that several banks, in particular BAC, C, PNC and MS, now estimate their net income during a stressed scenario will be stronger," Richard Staite, a banking analyst at Atlantic Equities, wrote in a Tuesday client note. 

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Microsoft Finally Makes the Right Choice: CEO Ballmer Is Done

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) is finally doing what it should have done years ago. Is this the start of a new era in Redmond, or is it a day late and a dollar short?

The world's largest software company is about to get a new CEO. Longtime leader Steve Ballmer will leave the CEO chair sometime in the next 12 months.

Investors love the very idea of losing Ballmer. Microsoft shares jumped as much as 9.4% on the news. That's good for a cool $28 billion in extra market cap value overnight, and the peak burst of positive energy added 23 points to the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) index.

The announcement comes just weeks after Ballmer's latest radical reorganization of Microsoft's leadership teams, meant to transform the company into a "devices and services" operation. Ballmer puts a positive spin on the timing of it all, claiming that it's a good idea to bring aboard fresh long-term leadership in the middle of this important transformation. "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," Ballmer said in an internal memo.

I'm not sure I buy that argument.

This summer's reorg seemed like a power play that consolidates even more power in the CEO's office. Announcing your retirement right after an audacious power grab doesn't make much sense. I'd argue that the board of directors finally got tired of Ballmer's antics and pushed him out, as graciously as possible.

Feel free to refute my conclusion in the comments box below, but keep in mind that Ballmer isn't part of the team that's looking for a successor. His input on who's to sit in his chair next will be, shall we say, limited.

Instead, the special committee is chaired by Microsoft's lead independent director, John Thompson. Chairman and industry legend Bill Gates is on the team, alongside the chairs of the audit and compensation committees.

And if you thought this crack team would look only at internal promotion candidates, headhunter firm Heidrick & Struggles (NASDAQ: HSII  ) is there to vet the field of outsider candidates. It's a high-profile contract for Heidrick, but the stock fell 0.7% today anyhow. The lack of popping champagne corks in the company's Chicago headquarters is an indication of just how tough this recruitment drive will be.

Many single-day price jumps are destined to fade away, but this one makes sense in a long-term perspective. Ballmer's heavy-handed management style and lack of innovative vision held the company back over the last 13 years. Replacing him won't automagically fix all of Microsoft's problems, such as missing out on the mobile computing trend and botching the Windows 8 release several times over, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

The tech world has been thrown into chaos as the biggest titans invade one another's turf. At stake is the future of a trillion-dollar revolution: mobile. Microsoft could use a top-tier talent in Ballmer's old office to secure a long-term place in the new era. To find out which of these rivaling giants is set to dominate the next decade, we've created a free report called "Who Will Win the War Between the 5 Biggest Tech Stocks?" Inside, you'll find out which companies are set to dominate and give in-the-know investors an edge. To grab a copy of this report, simply click here -- it's free!