Archive for Begging Bowl

Sometimes you just can’t Winn

While everyone is fretting over Toys ‘Were’ Us, one of the giants of the grocery industry is being pruned:

Southeastern Grocers, which owns grocery store chain Winn-Dixie, announced plans to file for bankruptcy and close nearly 100 stores.

The Florida-based company issued a statement Thursday announcing plans to implement a “prepackaged restructuring agreement” including the decision to close 94 “underperforming stores.”

Stores marked for closing may bear the W/D, Harveys or Bi-Lo names. This action will leave Southeastern with 582 stores. (As it happens, Winn-Dixie founder William Milton Davis set up his first shop in, um, Burley, Idaho in 1914; in 1925, Davis moved to Miami.)

Over the years, the chain expanded and contracted, as chains will do; in 2002, Winn-Dixie bailed out of the Texas and Oklahoma markets, and last month, a handful of Louisiana stores were dealt to Brookshire, based in northeast Texas.

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And you won’t get wafers with it

Is this the end of the Clark bar?

The Massachusetts manufacturer of such iconic candies as Necco wafers, Clark bars and those heart-shaped Sweethearts decorated with romantic sayings says it will shut down and lay off nearly 400 workers unless it finds a buyer.

Necco CEO Michael McGee wrote in a letter last week to Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo the company would close its plant in the city north of Boston if it can’t find a buyer by May 6. Negotiations with potential buyers are ongoing.

The New England Confectionary Company, which dates to 1847, has had problems before, notably in 2009 when it abandoned its original wafer flavors and colors in favor of something that wasn’t kale, but might as well have been.

(Via Marc Wielage.)

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Broke, broke

“Can a Financier Finance a SubPrime Car?” asks a guy trying to sound like he knows what he’s talking about:

A financier financed a car that I thought was in working condition and had a few cosmetic issues… I got tired of fixing it under the hood, bought another car out-right, and they repossessed the financed one. Then charged me to “make it new again”-very costly… before auctioning it off for a measly 300 dollars claiming that the engine needed to be rebuilt and the the vehicle was “abused” and I know that all I ever did was take care of it. What should I do. I reported them to the CFPB for their collections tactics etc. and they still haven’t deleted the collection item. What can I do? I don’t have “before” pictures.

Um, Bunkie? This is not Walmart. You don’t get your money back. Ever. And “… that I thought was in working condition” is utterly worthless in view of “I got tired of fixing it under the hood.”

The real question, though, is why, if you were in a position to buy a car “out-right,” did you take out a loan for that first piece of crap — and then default on that loan? You played this about as badly as it’s possible to play it.

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Ding, dong, the Web is dead

Which old Web? The World Wide Web, and, says Rob LoCascio, founder and CEO of LivePerson, the first brick falls this year:

When we started building websites in the mid-90s, we had great dreams for e-commerce. We fundamentally thought all brick-and-mortar stores would disappear and everything dot-com would dominate. But e-commerce has failed us miserably. Today, less than 15 percent of commerce occurs through a website or app, and only a handful of brands (think: Amazon, eBay and Netflix) have found success with e-commerce at any real scale. There are two giant structural issues that make websites not work: HTML and Google.

In the case of HTML, it’s an instance of “We were never intended to do that”:

In the early years, we were speaking in library terms about “browsing” and “indexing,” and in many ways the core technology of a website, called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), was designed to display static content — much like library books.

But retail stores aren’t libraries, and the library format can’t be applied to online stores either. Consumers need a way to dynamically answer the questions that enable them to make purchases. In the current model, we’re forced to find and read a series of static pages to get answers — when we tend to buy more if we can build trust over a series of questions and answers instead.

How often do you get the answer you need on your first trip to the FAQ? Not very, I suspect.

But that’s a design problem. The 800-lb gorilla in the room is far more sinister in intent:

As Google made it easier to find the world’s information, it also started to dictate the rules through the PageRank algorithm, which forced companies to design their websites in a certain way to be indexed at the top of Google’s search results. But its one-size-fits-all structure ultimately makes it flawed for e-commerce.

Now, almost every website looks the same — and performs poorly. Offline, brands try to make their store experiences unique to differentiate themselves. Online, every website — from Gucci to the Gap — offers the same experience: a top nav, descriptive text, some pictures and a handful of other elements arranged similarly. Google’s rules have sucked the life out of unique online experiences. Of course, as e-commerce has suffered, Google has become more powerful, and it continues to disintermediate the consumer from the brand by imposing a terrible e-commerce experience.

Meanwhile, about 15 percent of the questions flung at me on Quora boil down to “How can I get the highest possible ranking on Google?” I haven’t the heart to tell them “Build a really shitty site.” Yet.

LoCascio sees 404s in our future:

I am going to make a bold prediction based on my work with 18,000 companies and bringing conversational commerce to life: In 2018, we will see the first major brand shut down its website. The brand will shift how it connects with consumers — to conversations, with a combination of bots and humans, through a messaging front end like SMS or Facebook. We are already working with several large brands to make this a reality.

Facebook? Please.

When the first website ends, the dominoes will fall fast. This will have a positive impact on most companies in transforming how they conduct e-commerce and provide customer care. For Google, however, this will be devastating.

At least there’s some redeeming social value.

(Via Jeff Faria.)

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Toys “B” Broke

Toys “R” Us filed for Chapter 11 back in September. Now comes the other shoe:

Toys “R” Us is planning to shutter a fifth of its U.S. stores.

The troubled retailer, which declared bankruptcy in September, is looking to close down as many as 182 outlets across the country, according to a court filing late Tuesday.

Over nearly seven decades in business, Toys “R” Us has built up 1,600 stores around the world. About 880 of them are in the U.S.

Stores outside the US, including the 83 in Canada, are unaffected. Oklahoma loses two: one in OKC on SE 66th east of I-35, north of what used to be Crossroads Mall, and one in Norman on Ed Noble Parkway.

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Caracalypse now

Stefano Pozzebon reports from Caracas for CNN Money that getting a dollar in Venezuela is a long, arduous task [warning: autostart video]:

It was noon. I had been looking for cash for more than two hours. I returned to the first bank I tried.

I waited another hour in line before reaching the teller with my checkbook in hand. I noticed how everyone in line was still calm and silent, as if general resignation had forced these people to simply accept the situation.

At 1:23 p.m., I finally presented my check and got the hard-earned cash: 10,000 bolívars, or 6 cents.

Yarmira de Motos, the teller, informed me that the bank manager establishes every morning how much each customer can withdraw based on how much money is delivered by the Venezuelan Central Bank.

For this reason, some banks may allow 5,000-, 10,000- or even 30,000-bolívar withdrawals depending on the day. It’s a total gamble.

With my 10,000 bolívars in hand four hours later, I met a friend for a coffee. My cappuccino cost 35,000 bolívars.

Probably fifty thousand by now.

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Gawker to remain dead

They tried, but they couldn’t do it:

The Kickstarter campaign launched by former Gawker editors to buy back the website has officially failed. Launched last month, the consortium of unnamed people — entitled the Gawker Foundation — hoped to raise $500,000 as a way to bid on the website’s domain and potentially start a new and reinvigorated media company.

The campaign raised just short of $90,000, so “not even close” would seem to apply.

(Via Fark.)

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2, 4, 6, 8, let us go and reinflate

So far as I can tell, the Venezuelan bolívar fuerte is worth 100 céntimos, and one céntimo is worth nothing. President Maduro has now made it more so:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a 40 percent increase to the minimum wage as of January, a move that will foment what many economists already consider hyperinflation in the oil-rich but crisis-stricken nation.

What’s 40 percent of nothing?

Venezuelans will now earn some 797,510 bolívars a month, factoring in food tickets, or just over $7 on the widely used black market index. Millions will still be unable to afford three meals a day, while the increase is likely to stoke inflation further. Prices went up 1,369 percent between January and November, according to figures released earlier this month by the opposition-led Congress, which estimated the 2017 rate would top 2,000 percent. The Venezuelan government no longer publishes inflation data on a regular basis.

Of course not. They can’t print it fast enough to keep up.

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They did the mash

Apparently it didn’t catch on in a flash:

Mashable, once a fast-growing digital publisher with big ambitions, has been sold at a fire sale price.

Ziff Davis, a digital media subsidiary of tech company J2, is buying Mashable for less than $50 million, according to people familiar with the transaction. In the spring of 2016, Time Warner’s Turner led a $15 million investment round that valued the company at $250 million.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that a deal was in the works.

Weird to see that description of Ziff Davis, which has been around for 90 years. During the 1970s they owned stuff like Car and Driver and Stereo Review, and they could afford not to do things like this:

Mashable’s new owners plan on keeping the site running but want to refocus the company on tech and tech-lifestyle content. That will mean laying off about 50 of the site’s employees and offering other Mashable employees jobs at other Ziff Davis publications, according to a source familiar with the company’s plans, who says founder Pete Cashmore will stay with the company.

Until he gets bored, I suspect.

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A decidedly cloudy forecast

Cumulus Media, which owns 446 radio stations in the US, has been in dire straits:

Atlanta-based radio giant Cumulus Media has filed to reorganize in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with $2.4 billion in debt. It has reached an agreement with 69% of its term loan holders.

Cumulus’ pre-packaged restructuring agreement with lenders will reduce the company’s debt by more than $1 billion. The filing took place at United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

Earlier this month, Cumulus defaulted on a nearly $24 million debt payment to its lenders. The stock will continue to trade on the OTC (over-the-counter) market, where it moved after being delisted at NASDAQ last week.

Shares in CMLS are selling for a very non-NASDAQy nine cents a share. And speaking of shares, the top-rated Cumulus station in Oklahoma City, the nation’s #50 market, is WWLS, the Sports Animal, which scored a 4 share, fifth among local stations.

Required management jargon:

Cumulus president/CEO Mary Berner insisted the company will turn its fortunes around in her press statement. “Over the last two years, we have focused on implementing a business plan to reverse the company’s multi-year ratings, revenue and EBITDA declines, create a culture that fosters motivated and engaged employees, and build an operational foundation to support the kind of performance we believe Cumulus is capable of delivering. This has resulted in increased ratings, revenue market share gains, improved employee satisfaction, reduced employee turnover and, over the last several quarters, our return to year-over-year EBITDA and revenue growth — demonstrating that turnaround has not only been successful, but is continuing. However, as we have noted consistently, the debt overhang left by previous years of underperformance remains a significant financial challenge that we must overcome for our operational turnaround to proceed.”

Short version: “Most of this crap happened before I got here.”

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It has come to this

The hardest of hard luck befalls some of us:

Melody was in a car accident. It was a hit and run. This is where she had to get a rod in her leg. When that failed, she had her leg amputated. With all the medical bills, she was left homeless. From here she got a flesh eating bacteria virus. She made it though, but after that she had to start getting dialysis every week. Her ports continued to get clogged, so she was always going through alot of surgeries and complications. She passed away from a massive heart attack. At this time we are unsure of the cause of this.

Any help would be great. Thank you.

Melody was a cousin of mine; her mom was my Aunt Nena. She was fifty years old, and that’s too early to say goodbye.

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The unsoaked rich

Colonel Bunny, on the subject of the one-percenters and how they stay there:

The mask has slipped in the last 25 years as the infection of high-speed trading on the stock market, the flood of insane derivatives, the chummy relationship of public employee unions and politicians, open borders, and massive money creation, among other things, have come to light. The result has been the enormous transfer of wealth to the richest 1% that has accompanied astronomical wage stagnation. This is parasitism.

No one’s been minding the store in the West for a long time. Almost all Western nations have flooded themselves with savages and run up massive debt and money supplies, all to satisfy, I presume, the moneyed interests and their lumpenproletariat clients on whom the former rely to deliver reliable votes for economic destruction and the slide into third-world grime and savagery. This has nothing to do with common sense or patriotism.

There’s scarcely any money worthy of the name down here in the old Teeming Milieu; at best, what we have turns out to be nothing more than positive ledger entries. The more pragmatic among us will note that this is better than negative ledger entries; but at any moment your personal balance may be confiscated at the whim of the State. And if they want you in red ink, in red ink you shall be.

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But hey, it’s not a tax

“We didn’t come to the State Capitol to start raising taxes.”

Um, there’s a budget hole you could steer an aircraft carrier through, and the state constitution forbids deficit spending.

“Listen up, goddamn it. We didn’t come to the State Capitol to start raising taxes.”

And so it came to pass that this came to pass:

Letter from Child Support Services announcing a new fee

After all, those custodial parents are just rolling in extra cash these days.

Aren’t they?

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House of no blue lights

Number of K mart SuperCenters remaining in 2017: one.

That would be this one, #4939 in Warren, Ohio:

About 600 non-Super K mart stores remain, in 49 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam. That store in Guam is the largest K mart of them all.

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Some people will defend this

What they can’t defend is how various governmental entities can slap nearly four dollars in taxes on a $6 carton of Sprite, and yet said governmental entities are utterly broke.

“But that stuff is not good for you” will not wash as a justification, either, unless you plan to tax Chicago residents based upon their home addresses.

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Almost entirely vapor by now

Set the time machine for 2014, and consider that perhaps it was never meant to be:

I dreamed about how much money driving an Elio would save me. My Subaru WRX STi gets approximately 20 miles per gallon and uses premium, non-ethanol gas (the expensive stuff). The Elio’s light body and small build make it four times as efficient, claiming 84 miles per gallon. Using 2014 gas prices and assuming I would drive to work every single day, I estimated yearly gasoline savings of more than $1,700 a year — and this was before I re-enrolled in college. A round trip to OU from my house is 90 miles. In 2016 I drove to school and back twice a week for 32 weeks — that’s an additional 5,760 miles! I’m no math major, but it seemed to me this car was going to pay itself in savings alone very quickly.

Three years later, and the Elio hasn’t saved me a dime. In fact, I’m still $100 in the hole.

What went wrong?

The future of Elio depends on where you get your information. claims that the Elio is “U.S. made by American workers at the former GM plant in Shreveport, Louisiana” … but the reality is, Elio hasn’t made any cars at the Shreveport plant, or anywhere else. In fact, the company is struggling to pay rent. According to, “since last October, Elio hasn’t paid their monthly tab to RACER Trust — which provided a $23 million loan to facilitate its move to a shuttered General Motors plant in town. As a result, Elio currently owes more than $1.7 million in back payments to RACER Trust. While the default interest rate of 18% will continue to add up until payments resume, the company now has another year to pay back the principal on the loan.”

You have to figure that the Lending Community didn’t think much of Elio’s chances, if they’re having to fork out 18 percent.

What to do?

Let me save you $100.

I love the idea of an Elio. I can’t imagine anything cooler than driving to work, school, or cross-country in a three-wheeled vehicle that feels like a car — a car that gets twice the miles per gallon my last motorcycle got and that I can drive year round. The backseat has enough room to take a kid to the bus stop or a suitcase full of clothes for a road trip. The dual front-wheel-drive tires are designed to pull the Elio through snow and ice like a futuristic sled. With hybrid and electronic cars still in their infancy, I feel like the Elio is a way to lower my carbon footprint, just a little bit.

The only problem with the Elio, as far as I can tell, is that they’re never going to build them.

It’s probably time for The Truth About Cars to start an Elio Motors Death Watch.

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If you build it, they will [redacted]

Warren Meyer, spring 2015:

For some reason, it appears that building hotels next to city convention centers is a honey pot for politicians. I am not sure why, but my guess is that they spend hundreds of millions or billions on a convention center based on some visitation promises. When those promises don’t pan out, politicians blame it on the lack of a hotel, and then use public money for a hotel. When that does not pan out, I am not sure what is next. Probably a sports stadium. Then light rail. Then, ? It just keeps going and going.

Warren Meyer, summer 2017:

Finally, we may be at an end, though politicians are still hoping for some sort of solution that better hides what a sorry expenditure of tax money this really was.

What he means by “this”:

Phoenix has entered into exclusive negotiations to sell the city-owned Sheraton Grand Phoenix downtown hotel — the largest hotel in Arizona — for $255 million.

The city signed a letter of intent with TLG Phoenix LLC, an investment company based in Florida, to accept the offer and negotiate a purchase contract, city officials announced Tuesday evening.

But the deal faces criticism from some council members concerned about the loss to taxpayers. The city also attempted, unsuccessfully, to sell the hotel to the same buyer for a higher price last year.

If Phoenix ultimately takes the offer, the city’s total losses on the taxpayer-funded Sheraton could exceed $100 million.

The city still owes $306 million on the hotel and likely would have to pay that off, even after a sale. That would come on top of about $47 million the city has sunk into the hotel, largely when bookings dropped due to the recession.

Now how did the city of Phoenix end up owning a hotel?

When Phoenix leaders opened the Sheraton in 2008, they proclaimed it would be a cornerstone of downtown’s comeback. They had one goal in mind: lure big conventions and tourism dollars. Officials argued the city needed the extra hotel beds to support its massive taxpayer-funded convention center a block away.

Fortunately, that can’t possibly happen here.

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To know a veil

In 1933, Alfred Angelo Piccione and his lovely bride Edythe Vincent Piccione set up a shop catering to other lovely brides. You have to figure, given the American tendency to spend like crazy on weddings, that this business would be as recession-proof as you could possibly imagine.

And today it’s dead. Sixty-two Alfred Angelo stores nationwide, including one just up the street from me, were shuttered today, and the scene at the corporate office in Florida was pretty much an evacuation. No mention of it on the company web site, though.

At the Oklahoma City store, employees were telling customers to come pick up their orders before 8 pm. Similar stories are being reported nationwide.

And elsewhere? Wednesday this episode of Undercover Boss USA aired on a British TV channel:

Paul Quentel, president of Alfred Angelo, the second largest bridal retailer in the United States, goes undercover to solve any problems as quickly as possible. Posing as a contestant on a reality TV competition, he works among his own staff.

You just might have been a little bit late on that, Paul.

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And they’re still broke

The Illinois Seventh District state representative:

If you thought your tax bill was going up from $1000 to $1012, you deserve this guy.

A resident of the state is displeased to correct his misfiguring:

My late brother, who spent a fair amount of time as a drunken sailor, would have objected strenuously to this characterization.

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Try not to notice the interest rate

The Venezuelan government certainly isn’t going out of its way to brag:

The government raised $865 million cash by selling $2.8 billion in previously untapped PDVSA bonds held by the Central Bank. The central bank got just 31 cents on the dollar for the bonds from Goldman Sachs’s asset management arm.

Bonds generally sell at a discount, but not this big a discount:

In return for $865 million now, the government committed to dishing out a total of $3.65 billion through 2022, split between $2.8 billion in principal and $756 million in interest. It’s unbelievable. The government now has to fork up the $865 million three times over by 2022 to make good on the $2.8 billion in bonds — and has to pay a crippling $756 million interest on top of that.

It’s like ripping out the electric wiring from the walls of your own house to sell the copper and get your next crystal meth fix.

The deal has an “internal rate of return” of 48%. That means this is equivalent to taking out a loan at 48% interest … in dollars!

Venezuela might have a chance of paying this off, should the price of oil rise to $110 or so. It’s less than half that now.

(Via Fausta’s blog.)

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I will close four hundred stores

And then I’ll close four hundred more.

Last month, Payless ShoeSource filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and immediately announced a list of 400 stores on the chopping block, including the one closest to me.

But that was last month. Now the company has asked the court for permission to shut down 408 more.

The first round included 12 Oklahoma stores; the second adds (or, technically, subtracts) six more. Will we lose all eighteen? Maybe, maybe not:

Keep in mind that this isn’t a final list of stores that will be closing. It’s a list of stores where the company hasn’t been able to negotiate a good enough rent concession, and it’s asking for permission to close these stores if the retailer and its landlords can’t negotiate a rent that both parties are happy with. There will be a hearing on this motion, among others, on June 8.

Payless has just over 4000 stores — for the moment.

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On not blaming the Chinese

Jack Baruth quotes a couple of bicycle prices, and then shows you why they matter to us non-cyclists:

The Tomasso Corvo costs $1,699 through the direct sales channel, although it periodically goes on sale for $1,499. The 1987 Cannondale SR500 sold at a bike shop for full MSRP of $599. That’s $1,282 in today’s money. To put this in an automotive context: In 1987, a Honda Accord DX sedan sold for $11,174, which adjusts to $23,933. The 2017 Accord LX costs $22,455. In both cases, final assembly and much of the component production was done in Marysville, Ohio. And if you’re reading this site, chances are that you know enough about cars to understand the vast gap in power, capability, and equipment between a 1987 Accord and a 2017 Accord.

Which leads to a legitimate question: If Honda can make a better car for less money without moving production out of the United States, why have bike makers raised prices after moving everything to China, where costs are supposed to be lower? How do you manage to drop the labor rate from $25/hour to a fraction of that and still charge more for the product?

It turns out that Chinese labor isn’t as cheap as it used to be. Which leads to a frightening conclusion: Cannondale et al aren’t making bikes in China because it’s cheaper. It isn’t cheaper. Instead, they are making bikes in China because they’ve forgotten how to make them in the United States. This isn’t just true for bicycles. In every industry you can imagine, from watchmaking to commercial-vehicle production, Americans have simply let multiple generations’ worth of knowledge and expertise disappear. While we were all busy watching “peak TV” and selling each other real estate, the entire industrial base of this country was donated to the Pacific Rim. They now have an effective monopoly on many products and processes. And because they are intelligent, resourceful people, they are taking full advantage of it.

I wasn’t always a non-cyclist, of course; I ran up some serious miles on some low-end (by comparison) Schwinns, which ended when I got my hands on a similarly low-end Chevrolet. What happened to Schwinn? What do you think?

In September 2001, the Schwinn Company, its assets, and the rights to the brand, together with that of the GT Bicycle, was purchased at a bankruptcy auction by Pacific Cycle, a company previously known for mass-market brands owned by Wind Point Partners. In 2004, Pacific Cycle was in turn acquired by Dorel Industries. Once America’s preeminent bicycle manufacturer, the Schwinn brand was now affixed to bicycles fabricated entirely in China, fueling most of its corporate parent’s growth.

Dorel Industries, incidentally, is headquartered in Montréal, and as of 2008 is the owner of Cannondale.

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Expensive Staff Promptly Negated

But not enough to do any good:

If ESPN is bleeding money from subscriber losses, they need to offset the damage by making cuts elsewhere in the company. That doesn’t, though, really follow, mathematically. Look at the people who have been laid off. Sure, it’s possible that veterans like McManus and Stark and Ed Werder were carrying hefty salaries, but no amount of fired reporters and columnists is going to put even the tiniest dent in ESPN’s rights fees. Add up all the salaries of the people who lost their jobs, and how much of a single Monday Night Football broadcast does it buy? Ten minutes? Fifteen?

So, then, what was the point? The memo released by ESPN president John Skipper is instructive. It was hollow and buzzword-laden in the precise way that is meant to speak to Disney investors who want to be assured that ESPN is still capable of “navigating changes in technology and fan behavior in order to continue to deliver quality, breakthrough content.”

I think we can safely say that this is now a Rule of Media: Anyone in the media who thinks what they do is “delivering content” should be delivering something else entirely — maybe pizza. And investors who buy these buzzwords are probably dumb enough to support a 120-percent tax on ordinary dividends.

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Penney’s for your thoughts

JCPenney has now issued its list of store closings, numbering 138, including four in Oklahoma. The Penn Square store in Oklahoma City, rumored to be on the chopping block, survives this round.

The closings in Soonerland will be in Altus, Claremore, Ponca City and Stillwater. This is the statistic that startles me:

The closings will save $200 million per year, the company said.

This works out to nearly $1.5 million per store.

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Cash issue

The C in JCPenney stands for “Cash,” that being Mr. Penney’s middle name. (For you completeness-seekers: the founder of the store chain was James Cash Penney, Jr.) Penney’s first store was opened in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902. A hundred fifteen years later, JCP is cutting back:

JCPenney recently announced that it would close 130 to 140 stores in the next couple of months because of slowing traffic and sales.

The department-store chain hasn’t yet released a list of which stores it will close, but Morningstar Credit Ratings has identified 39 stores most at risk of closing, based on the stores’ sales data.

The stores that made the list have weaker sales per square foot than JCPenney’s average.

One of those stores is in Oklahoma City’s Penn Square Mall. OKC is the only city in the state with two JCP stores; the other is in Quail Springs Mall, five miles northwest. The ‘burbs, meanwhile, have three more.

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Five rings to bankrupt them all

The Olympic Games are so devastating a money pit that even cities that don’t get to hold them end up paying through the nose:

Chicago was one of the candidates for the 2016 games, with then-President Barack Obama flying to Denmark in 2009 for the final IOC vote as a show of support. The IOC showed itself a little smarter than the national Democratic Party and recognized that while Mr. Obama was pretty fabulous at getting people to support himself, he was not so great a help for someone else. Chicago went out in the first round of voting, much to the surprise of CNN, which had a nice fancy countdown graphic set up and preparation for a whole morning of voting coverage.

In order to fund that bid, Chicago did things like rent its parking meters to a group of private companies. For seventy-five years. In order to lose in the first round of Olympic voting, the city gave up its share of parking revenues until the 100th anniversary of the Games of the XXIII Olympiad in 2084. The city used public funds to buy a hospital complex as a site for the Olympic Village — land which is now valued at about 15% of the cost Chicago taxpayers laid out for it. But at least that’ll be paid off 60 years before the city gets its parking meters back.

It doesn’t help that Chicago is in Illinois, a state whose budgetary woes are legendary.

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Return on disinvestment

For a mall that isn’t quite dead yet, this is an astonishing statistic:

A Pennsylvania mall that was foreclosed on after its owners failed to repay $143 million has been auctioned off for $100.

Wells Fargo Bank was owed the money from a 2006 loan and submitted the winning bid for the 1.1 million-square-foot Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills on Wednesday. The bank was acting as trustee for MSCI 2007 HQ11, the trust that bought the mall in suburban Frazer Township.

Wells Fargo foreclosed last year on the mall, which opened in 2005. The mall once was worth $190 million but recently was appraised at just $11 million and is slightly more than half occupied. Pittsburgh Mills Limited Partnership defaulted on the loan.

In its day, the mall was notable enough to have a Wikipedia entry.

(Via Fark.)

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Russian unleaded

Vladimir Putin has a shot at rather a lot of American petroleum-refining capacity:

A Delaware Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filing against Citgo parent PDV Holding, Inc. on November 30 reveals that Venezuela has secretly mortgaged their Citgo refineries in the United States to Russia’s state-controlled oil company Rosneft.

Redd Intelligence uncovered the UCC filing and broke the news.

PDV Holding Inc., owned by Venezuela state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), owns Citgo Holding Inc., which in turn, owns Citgo Petroleum Corporation, which has 3 refineries and pipelines throughout the United States.

The lien means that should Citgo or PDVSA default, Russia’s state controlled oil company Rosneft could end up owning strategically important oil refineries and pipelines in the United States.

Citgo owns oil and gas pipelines throughout the country as well as oil refineries in Corpus Christi, Texas; Lake Charles, Louisiana; and Lemont, Illinois (outside of Chicago). Citgo’s refineries can refine 749,000 barrels per day and the Lake Charles refinery is the sixth-largest refining facility in the U.S.

Rosneft, it appears, cut PDVSA a check for $1.5 billion against 49.9 percent of Citgo. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except for this minor detail:

In October, in addition to a 20% bonus, PDVSA used 50.1% of Citgo Holding Inc. as collateral to induce $2.8 billion of holders of PDVSA debt maturing within the year to extend into a new 4 year amortizing bond. As a result, should PDVSA default, the holders of the new $3.4 billion PDVSA 8.5% of 2020 would be able to take 50.1% of Citgo Holding Inc.

So 100 percent of Citgo is now in hock. This does not strike me as a Good Sign.

(Via Fausta Wertz.)

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Go home, guys, you’re tronc

It has apparently come to this:

Nancy Friedman calls this what it is:

This is not as offensive as, say, investing employees’ 401(k) funds in the company à la Enron, but it doesn’t at all speak well of the guys in the corner offices.

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Taking in boarders

One of the genuine assets held by Sears Holdings is the real estate occupied by many Sears stores. How to get more out of it? Shrink some stores:

Sears Holdings Corp. said its Oak Brook [Illinois] store is among a dozen stores nationwide set to be reduced by half with their auto centers eliminated or changed into just appliance stores by 2018.

The Sears store and its Sears Auto Center in Oakbrook Center, along with 11 others, were sold to the GGP-Seritage Growth Partners Joint Venture last year.

The nature of the shrinkage:

After the footprint is changed, the Sears store will remain on the entire lower level and continue to serve our (customers) by operating in a smaller, more efficient space that will include home appliances, mattresses, household goods, sporting goods, tools and a targeted assortment of apparel.

One of the dozen stores marked for diminution is at the east end of Sooner Fashion Mall in Norman, Oklahoma.

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