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from Counterparties:

MORNING BID – Retail therapy

All that’s left for investors now when it comes to earnings season is the shouting, but if the rest of the retailers post results anything like Kate Spade did on Tuesday, the shouts will be screams of terror rather than anything that assuages investors over the state of the overall economy. Kate Spade’s executives went into some detail on its conference call as to the nature of its margins shortfall – which Belus Capital chief equity strategist and longtime retail analyst Brian Sozzi said are not likely to improve until the middle of 2015 – and the company then did itself no favors by declaring that it wouldn’t be discussing the margin issues any further on the call. (Craig Leavitt, the CEO, violated that rule to some degree, but basically, investors don’t like it when you tell them flat-out that you’re not going to talk about your problems, and when you’re a company with a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 77.5 and a price-to-book value of 119, that’s going to be particularly true.)

Other luxury retailers have noted their own problems with attracting customers at this time, including Michael Kors Holdings, which saw its own shares stumble of late after also warning of margin pressures due to expansion in Europe, but at least Kors has a forward P/E ratio around 19, which puts it in line with peers like Coach and Ralph Lauren.

After Macy’s, which reported this morning - and put some ugly numbers out there

Wal-Mart has trailed the S&P for the last several years.

Wal-Mart has trailed the S&P for the last several years.

- the next big retailers out of the gate are Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Wal-Mart, and of course they’re all over the map when it comes to big retailers; Nordstrom profiles a bit more like Coach and Kate Spade in terms of clientele, but they’re a big department store, so not really comparable at all. Nordstrom’s growth, though, is expected to come from the Nordstrom Rack outlet stores, with same-store sales estimates for the entire company at 3.3 percent, but a 1.2 percent decline expected in the full-line sales, according to Thomson Reuters data.

from Alison Frankel:

Wal-Mart case in Delaware: How much discovery can shareholders get?

Shareholder lawyer Stuart Grant of Grant & Eisenhofer told me Friday that he was feeling pretty good about his oral argument at the Delaware Supreme Court the previous day, in a case that will determine how much discovery plaintiffs are permitted when they sue to see corporate books and records.

Grant said his opponent, Wal-Mart counsel Mark Perry of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, gave so smooth and polished a presentation that the state justices might easily have glided along with what, according to Grant, was Perry’s “radical rewriting” of Delaware law. Instead, Grant said, “the court was not buying into Wal-Mart’s extreme theory.”

from Breakingviews:

Wal-Mart can win leading the way on minimum wage

By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Wal-Mart Stores can win by leading the way on the minimum wage. The mega-retailer’s labor costs would rise significantly if the U.S. government were to increase the national pay floor. But the company also has far more low-wage customers than it does employees. That would translate into a net gain in earnings, according to a Breakingviews analysis.

from The Great Debate:

What Beijing can learn from Wal-Mart

“So, how?”

The question, short for “So, how do you want to handle this?” is a common, subtle way to invite someone to offer you a bribe in Asia. A traffic cop pulls you over for running a yellow light. He’s at your passenger window, a leather strap covering his name tag. He tells you to follow him to the police station so he can process your $100 fine. “So, how?”

If you slip 10 dollars into his ticket book -- 20 dollars if you’re a foreigner -- he’ll close it, and you’ll both be on your way.

from Breakingviews:

Wal-Mart puts collar on Cerberus price for Safeway

By Robert Cyran
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Could Cerberus pay more for Safeway? Based on the 2007 A&P-Pathmark merger, synergies could be worth more than half the $9.4 billion that the private equity firm’s Albertsons supermarket is paying for its U.S. rival. In theory that leaves room for a higher offer. But competition from the likes of Wal-Mart means cost savings may need to go to shoppers, not investors.

from The Great Debate:

On minimum wage: Mind the Gap

Just 24 hours after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25 would deal a “devastating blow to the very people that need help most,” Gap Inc. announced it would raise employees’ minimum pay to $10 per hour by next year.

In striking contrast to the alarms sounded by McConnell, Gap chief executive officer Glenn Murphy emphasized the benefits of this pay raise for the company’s lowest-paid workers. He described it as a “strategic investment to do more for our employees” -- one that  will help “attract and retain a skilled, enthusiastic and engaged workforce.”

from Stories I’d like to see:

Timing the capitol bloviators, the French as the tough guys, and Wal-Mart’s reputation

1. Timing the capitol bloviators:

Watching the spate of committee hearings on Capitol Hill related to the Obamacare launch debacle reminds me of a story -- or, rather, an ongoing type of coverage -- that I wish the Washington Post, Politico or even C-Span would do: Keep count of the percentage of time each senator or congressman talks versus the amount of time the witnesses, whose appearances are ostensibly the purpose of the hearings, get to talk.

A sub-tally might also be done of how much of the committee member’s time is spent even asking a question, as opposed to giving a speech.

from The Great Debate:

Can Western companies put an end to Bangladesh factory disasters?

On Wednesday, while a Bangladeshi survivor of last November’s Tazreen fire that killed 113 people was talking to a Seattle audience about the need for corporations to be held liable for safety violations, it happened again. That day, a factory housing dozens of garment manufacturers in Bangladesh collapsed outside of Dhaka. Since then the death toll has skyrocketed to more than 300 workers, with hundreds more still trapped in the rubble.

Could it be that the so-called convenience of economic globalization is collapsing, too?

from Stories I’d like to see:

A working legislature, post informant life and Wal-Mart’s guns

A legislature that works:

Maybe it’s because I live in New York and have to read all the time about what may be the world’s two most dysfunctional legislative bodies – in Albany and Washington. But I wish a reporter for a national news organization would try to find the country’s best state legislature. A place where Democrats and Republicans actually work together. A place where money isn’t everything, and where everything isn’t done at the 11th hour, or later, followed by an orgy of self-congratulation.

We’ve got 50 states. They can’t all be governed by lawmakers who embarrass their constituents. Which ones function well, and why? What conflict-of-interest, campaign-spending or other rules do they have that help keep things in line? What makes them different, and how can we export their success to the rest of our capitals?

from The Great Debate:

Why Republicans should pressure Wal-Mart

Some Republicans, like Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, are arguing that the GOP needs to move away from big business and become a more populist defender of the middle class. That is good advice, and one dramatic way for Jindal or other party leaders to turn over a new leaf would be to join the pressure campaign on Wal-Mart to raise wages for its 2.2 million workers – a campaign that led to protests at Wal-Mart stores nationwide on Black Friday. The protests were coordinated by a labor-backed group of Wal-Mart Associates that wants the company to pay a minimum of $13 an hour, among other demands.

Republican criticism of Wal-Mart is not as unthinkable as it might seem. While the right heaps praise on Wal-Mart for its cheap consumer goods, the company’s low-wage business model should be problematic for conservatives for several reasons.

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