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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Full iPhone 6 Review

Originally written by my friend David---Repost Approval- 9/17-

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 last week, it made the front pages of newspapers. It dominated Google Search and Twitter. It triggered an avalanche of sniping and worshiping on the Web’s comment boards.
About a phone? Really?
Well, that’s what you’d say if you were an alien. If you’re human, you know why all the fuss. The iPhone is not just a phone; it’s a symbol. The phone you own doesn’t just let you make phone calls; it marks you as belonging to a religion. Maybe a cult
Each year’s new iPhone is another test for Apple. The world wants to know if Apple’s still got it, even without Steve Jobs. The faithful want the company to hit another one out of the park. The enemy can’t wait for the company to fumble.
Well, this time, Apple hasn’t fumbled. Its two new iPhones are excellent. Beautiful. State of the art. Worthy heirs to the iPhone throne.
There’s nothing actually surprising about the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Partly that’s because in the post-Jobs era, Apple isn’t as good at suppressing pre-announcement leaks. And partly it’s because there’s nothing much surprising about any phones these days. They’re mature. These days, designing a phone is a matter of nips and tucks and playing catch-up and one-up — as attractively as possible.
Meet the familyThis year, there are two new models: the iPhone Bigger and the iPhone Bigger-er.
Reviewed: iPhone 6 Is a Thin, Sexy Phone with a Killer Camera
(Apple)
Their real names are the iPhone 6 ($200 and up with two-year contract) and the iPhone 6 Plus ($300 and up with contract). 
And yes, that’s the big news: They have bigger screens than any iPhone before them. Steve Jobs used to mock Samsung’s increasingly jumbo smartphones, calling them “Hummers.” But apparently big is what the public wants. So big is what we get.
Here they are: the new iPhones, posed next to last year’s model, so you can get an idea of the scale:
Size comparison of iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus
And here, for your reference, are the new iPhones among their Android rivals:
Size comparison of iPhones and phones from LG and Samsung
What’s wild is that at first, the iPhone 6 doesn’t seem bigger than the iPhone 5. The first thing most people say when they pick it up is, “It doesn’t seem that big!” You have to hold an iPhone 5s next to it before you really notice.
Part of the explanation may be the Apple diet: These new phones are thin. About a quarter of an inch. Thinner than their rivals from Samsung, HTC, or LG. If you order one online, FedEx will probably slip it under your door.
Thickness comparison of iPhones and phones from LG and Samsung
The aluminum body has smooth, rounded edges — a more comfortable shape than the sharpened corners of the iPhone 4 and 5 era. The ring around the camera lens on the back protrudes about a millimeter; it’s no longer perfectly flush.
iPhone 6 camera
The screens are terrific. The smaller iPhone 6’s screen has 1334 × 750 pixels (326 dots per inch), and the Plus’s screen is 1920 × 1080 pixels (401 dpi), which is full high definition. Other phones have more dots or smaller ones, but at this point, everybody is just chasing unicorns; these screens have long since exceeded the ability of our eyes to distinguish pixels.
What to do with more screenThere’s a downside to having a bigger screen: You have to carry around a bigger phone. The small of hand won’t be thrilled about the added width. The iPhone 6 Plus, in particular, is a pocket-filler.
Apple is clearly aware of the drawbacks of gigantism. It has made some tweaks to make the size less awkward. The power/sleep button, for example, is on the side now instead of the top, so your thumb can reach it. (That’s a problem for people who use a volume key on the opposite edge as the camera shutter. Now when you grip the phone for photography, your thumb naturally falls on the sleep switch — and turns it off!)
The plus-sized 6 Plus, in fact, is well on its way to becoming an iPad Nano. As on an iPad, many of its built-in apps sprout extra panes when you turn the phone 90 degrees — like Mail and Calendar, for example:
iPhone Mail program in landscape view
Even the home screen rotates now, for the first time in iPhone history. (Some of Apple’s own apps rotate this way only on the 6 Plus, not the 6. Other software companies’ apps may rotate on both.)
iPhone home screen in landscape view
Also on the Plus: When you’re typing in landscape mode, there’s so much extra space that Apple has thrown in some additional on-screen keys. On the left: buttons for Cut, Copy, Paste, Bold, and Undo. On the right: Punctuation keys and actual cursor keys—a first on the iPhone.
On both phones, if there’s something at the top of the screen, too far away for your shrimpy little thumb to reach, you can touch the home button twice (touch, not click) to make the screen image slide down so you can reach what was at the top.
Screen sliding feature on the iPhone 6
With this larger phone now usable one-handed, what do you really get for all that size? There are some huge advantages to having a huge phone. The obvious one, of course, is more screen. Both models are much better for reading ebooks, answering email, watching movies, surfing the Web, and so on. The iPhone 6 Plus may look a little goofy when you hold it to your ear to make phone calls, especially if you’re small of head, but, wow, is it luxurious when you’re trying to consult a map.
A less-obvious advantage to huge is compensating for over-40 eyes. In Settings, you can specify whether you want your phone to show more, or to show the same thing bigger. Here’s the effect:
iPhone 6 in Standard and Enlarged view
Apple has moved the Adjust Type Size (and Bold Text) controls out of the buried Settings panel where they used to be. They’re now front and center on the Display Preferences screen.
The upshot: With some Settings tweaks, these phones can be godsends for anyone who puts on reading glasses to check her phone.
The gutsInside, Apple has been up to its usual tightening and polishing. There’s a new chip inside that Apple says is 25 percent faster. You wouldn’t notice it without testing the old and new phones side by side. Apps, for example, pop open about a half-second faster on the new phone.
Apple says that the radio circuitry inside can tune into 20 bands of LTE (fast cellular Internet), which means that this phone works on the high-speed Internet networks of many more countries than its rivals. (The Samsung Galaxy S5, for example, gets six bands of LTE.) That’s a perk only if you travel overseas, of course.
A bigger phone means there’s room for a bigger battery. The iPhone 6 gets slightly better battery life — 14 hours of reported talk time, up from 10; 11 hours of Web surfing on WiFi, up from 10. The iPhone 6 Plus gets substantially better life: 24 hours of talk time, 12 hours of browsing, and so on. You’ll still have to charge the iPhone 6 daily, but the iPhone 6 Plus might actually make it two days on a charge.
Battery life comparison for iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus
The new iPhones still don’t have removable memory cards. But at least you can buy them with more storage than before: They come in 16-, 64-, and, now, 128-gigabyte versions. That’s a heck of a lot of text messages and photos, although it’s weird that the sweet spot — 32 gigabytes — isn’t in the lineup.
The cellular circuitry offers some really cool refinements, although you won’t see the benefits for a while. The iPhone 6 is among the first VoLTE phones (pronounced “VOLty”). It stands for “voice over LTE,” and it means super-clear, rich sound quality — like FM instead of AM — when you’re calling another VoLTE phone.
Unfortunately, VoLTE does nothing for you unless your cellphone carrier has upgraded its network. So far, only T-Mobile has done that nationwide. The other carriers are still experimenting.
The iPhone 6 can also place calls over WiFi. You call people the same way, but you get to use your indoor WiFi router, and you don’t use up any cellular minutes. In fact, if you start a call in WiFi and then walk outside into a cellular LTE area, you don’t even drop the call. To make this work, I had to change two settings in Settings and restart the phone — but it finally did work, and beautifully. These features, too, work only on T-Mobile at the moment.
Apple PayTwo years ago, I sought out a 7-Eleven near my house because it had a contactless payment terminal on its cash register:
Contactless payment terminal
I was testing Google Wallet, a feature of some Android phones that lets you pay for things without even pulling out your wallet; you could just hold the phone near that terminal thing. But it took a lot of steps, including tapping in a security code with every purchase.
I recently visited the same 7-Eleven. You know what the guy told me? That the last person he remembered using his contactless terminal was me, two years ago.
Almost nobody pays by phone-tapping in this country, probably because it’s slower and clunkier than just swiping your credit card.
Apple Pay, new in the iPhone 6, will be different, Apple says.
The iPhone 6 models have an NFC chip inside (near-field communications), just like Android phones. That makes them work on those same contactless terminals, of which there are 220,000 across the United States. But you won’t have to turn on your iPhone, open an app, or fool around with credit cards. You just hold your phone (screen still asleep) near the terminal with your finger on the Home button. The screen lights up, shows your preferred credit card, sends you a receipt, and the deal is done.
The Home button, of course, is also a fingerprint reader; no bad guy can steal your phone and then start buying stuff, unless he also chops off your thumb. There’s more security stuff, too; you can read about it here.
Nobody can try out Apple Pay yet, though, because Apple won’t be turning it on until October; at that point, we’ll get an iOS 8 software update that includes Apple Pay features. (One important one: You’ll be able to store your credit card details in the Passbook app just by taking a picture of your physical cards — no typing.)
CameraThe iPhone camera is getting scarily good. Here are a few samples:
Image taken with iPhone 6
Image taken with iPhone 6
Image taken with iPhone 6
There’s now ultra-smooth, ultra-slow motion video (see the watermelon-smashing test in my video, above). There’s phase-detection autofocusing, which compares incoming light from two pixels for fast, precise focusing — or quick, smooth refocusing while recording video (hallelujah!).
The Plus model has optical image stabilization — the lens jiggles in precise motion to counteract the handheld movement of the phone itself — that works supremely well. To test it out, I fastened an iPhone 6 Plus and an iPhone 5s to a bike on this rig so that they would film exactly the same thing:
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus strapped to a bicycle
Then I rode around rough roads, filming. In my video above, you can see the side-by-side comparison of the two phones’ stabilization.
Free features for allSome of the iPhone 6’s features — design, screen, camera — are truly stunning. But you don’t have to ditch your old phone to get all of them. 
That’s because tomorrow you’ll be able to download the newest Apple software for iPhones, iOS 8. Free.
You’ll be reading a lot more about iOS 8 here on Yahoo Tech, but trust me: Its ratio of useful features to glitzy ones is the highest in years. You won’t find many big-ticket items changed, but you will find loads of truly ingenious touch-ups that make phone life easier and less stressful.
A few of my favorites:
• When you tap the Add Photo button (to send a picture as a text message), you don’t have to burrow into your Photos collection; the last few photos you took present themselves immediately. Apple assumes that often, the photo you want to send is one of the most recent. (It’s correct.)
iPhone 6 Message app sharing photos
• You can use the fingerprint reader (iPhone 5s and 6 models) to do more than unlock the phone now. You can use it to log in to apps instead of remembering a password.
• There’s a Hyperlapse-style time-lapse video option.
• The keyboard is much better. Now you see the three words you’re most likely to type next, hovering just above the onscreen keyboard. (The video above shows it in action.)
• You gain the option to install other companies’ keyboards, like the popular Swype and SwiftKey keyboards.
• Siri’s command recognition (“Set my alarm”) has always been good, but now its dictation skills have been polished to a shine. It’s much, much more accurate — especially if you have an accent — and you see the words as you’re speaking them now.
• You can turn on hands-free, “always listening” mode for Siri whenever the phone is charging (for example, in the car). That is, even if it’s asleep, you can say, “Hey Siri” to make it listen to your next command.
A word to the armies of the faithful The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are absolutely terrific phones. They’re fast and powerful and well designed. There’s not a single component that hasn’t been improved. These phones are a delight to behold and to be held.  
But before we part, here’s a question that’s been the elephant in this room for years: If the iPhone is fantastic, does that mean that your phone is no good?
You will hear, for example — and it’s true — that Apple did not pioneer many of the iPhone 6’s big-ticket features. Other companies’ phones were first to introduce bigger phone screens; “always listening” voice commands; wireless payments; predictive keyboard words; phase-detection autofocusing; time-lapse video; optical image stabilizers; VoLTE calling; and so on.
That’s right: Apple has adapted features that first appeared on Android. Just as Google has adapted many features from Apple.
Why does it matter so much? If Apple is praised for doing good work, why does it so enrage Android fans — and vice versa?
The answer, of course, is that cellphones are deeply personal. When you buy a phone, you’re making an expensive bet. You can’t easily switch between the Google and Apple worlds; you’ve invested a lot in accessories, you’ve bought apps, you’ve learned that company’s software conventions. And you never want to think your phone is inferior, because then you might feel inferior.  
So you wind up taking a side in this phone duopoly. You join a very silly — and unwinnable — religious war.
Judge the iPhone not just for what it is, but for the entire world that Apple has built around it: the apps, the music/movie/TV store, the integration with the Mac and iPad, the built-in online services. Does Apple generally do an excellent job with all of this? Yes.
Judge your Android phone the same way. Does it have a huge, open, lively world of apps and community online? Does it have a well-stocked movie/music/TV store? Is most of it well designed — and free? Yes.
Celebrate the iPhone’s excellence, even if you’re not in the Apple fold. And celebrate the best work of Samsung, HTC, and LG, even if you’re not part of the Android family.
Because, in the end, competition is what will make your phone better this time next year, or the year after that. The perpetual refinement of ideas, and the necessity to think up new ones, will benefit you — no matter which army you march with.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Landmark Fracking Study

The final report from a landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, found no evidence that chemicals or brine water from the gas drilling process moved upward to contaminate drinking water at a site in western Pennsylvania.

The Department of Energy report, released Monday, was the first time an energy company allowed independent monitoring of a drilling site during the fracking process and for 18 months afterward. After those months of monitoring, researchers found that the chemical-laced fluids used to free gas stayed about 5,000 feet below drinking water supplies.

Scientists used tracer fluids, seismic monitoring, and other tests to look for problems, and created the most detailed public report to date about how fracking affects adjacent rock structures.

The fracking process uses millions of gallons of high-pressure water mixed with sand and chemicals to break apart rocks rich in oil and gas. That has led to a national boom in production, but also concerns about possible groundwater contamination.

But the DOE report is far from the last word on the subject. The Energy Department monitored six wells at one site, but oil or gas drilling at other locations around the nation could show different results because of variations in geology or drilling practices. Environmentalists and regulators have also documented numerous cases where surface spills of chemicals or wastewater damaged drinking water supplies.

"There are a whole wealth of harms associated with shale gas development" separate from fracking, said Maya K. van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper group. She mentioned methane gas leaks, wasteful use of fresh water, and air pollution, and said the DOE study confirms a point that the Riverkeeper has been making: that faulty well construction is the root cause of most problems, not natural geologic migration of chemicals.

A separate study published this week by different researchers examined drilling sites in Pennsylvania and Texas using other methods. It found that faulty well construction caused pollution, but not fracking itself.

Avner Vengosh, a Duke University scientist involved with that study, just published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said in an email that it appears the Energy Department report on the Pennsylvania site is consistent with their findings.

The leading industry group in Pennsylvania said the DOE study reaffirms that hydraulic fracturing "is a safe and well-regulated technology." Marcellus Shale Coalition president Dave Spigelmyer said in an email that the study reflects "the industry's long and clear record of continuously working to enhance regulations and best practices aimed at protecting our environment."

The Energy Department report did yield some surprises. It found that the fractures created to free oil or gas can extend up to 1,900 feet from the base of the well. That's much farther than the usual estimates of a few hundred feet. The Energy Department researchers believe that the long fractures may have followed existing fault lines in the Marcellus Shale or other formations above it.

The DOE study also ran into problems with the man-made markers meant to track possible long-term pollution. DOE said it was able to track the markers for two months after fracking, but then that method had to be abandoned when it stopped working properly.

A win for boeing or Elon Musk???

A big deal with NASA may be on the horizon for Boeing.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Chicago-based aerospace giant will likely win a multibillion-dollar contract from NASA to build "space taxis.” A space taxi ferries astronauts to and from orbit and the international space station. NASA has set a deadline to announce the award this month.

A deal with Boeing (BA) would be a blow to Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as Space-X. Space-X has been considered Boeing’s biggest competitor for the contract. Musk's company previously inked a deal with NASA to take equipment to the international space station.

But Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman says Space-X likely will not walk away empty-handed if Boeing is awarded the contract. That’s because NASA needs a healthy private space industry. “The idea here is get two or three firms competing for these contracts,” he says, “And get all enough business to keep them going.” Newman believes that if Musk’s firm Space-X doesn’t win this deal, it will, “probably get sort of a consolation prize of a secondary contract.”

Space-X isn’t the only company vying for the contract. Sierra Nevada, a privately-held company that has partipated in more than 70 previous NASA programs, is also in the running for the funding. A joint award is also possible.

The company awarded the contract would build, operate and maintain a fleet of space taxis which will replace NASA’s old fleet of space shuttles. The space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011.

NASA currently relies on Russian rockets to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the international space station. U.S. officials and policymakers are concerned about the reliance on the Russians to maintain such a large portion of the NASA’s space program. Yahoo Finance’s Newman says it is difficult for the Obama admistration to put sanctions on Russia, and at the same time trust that this relationship can contiunue because, “They could pull the plug on it” at any time.

Relying on the Russians isn’t cheap either. The cost to transport a U.S. astronaut to the space station has ballooned to $70 million per seat.

Officials hope to end the rocket ride-sharing program with Russia by 2017. According to the WSJ report, space industry experts as well as government insiders say Boeing’s bid has emerged as the frontrunner because it is “the least risky option” and would most likely be ready for flight in the next three years.

NASA chief Charles Bolden could overrule any decision

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tesla Getting killed---heres why

Tesla Motors (TSLA) stock dropped Monday after Morgan Stanley suggested that its shares had risen for the wrong reasons.


Shares in the electric car maker fell more than 9 percent by Monday afternoon, after Morgan Stanley researchers posited that they "do not expect the stock to appreciate so consistently and one-directionally from here."

One of the major concerns that the analysts noted is the failure of other electric vehicles across the developed world, which could lead to the industry to lobby for a "substantial revision" of air quality regulations "to slow down the pace of milestones they have little hope of achieving (besides Tesla)."

Morgan Stanley analysts also wrote that Tesla may have difficulty keeping up with Chinese demand, and that the eventual switch to autonomous vehicles may negate Tesla's current strategic advantages.

Still, the analysts said that Tesla's shares are ultimately worth $320, despite perhaps moving toward that target too quickly.

Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggested that investors often "get carried away" with his stock price.

Read More Tesla sinks after Musk's 'kind of high' comment

"I think our stock price is kind of high right now," Musk said last week, responding to a question from CNBC at a news conference. "If you care about the long term, Tesla, I think the stock is a good price. If you look at the short term, it is less clear."

Recent Analyst upgrades

Ambarella (NASDAQ:AMBA) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from a neutral rating to an outperform rating. Zacks currently has $40.90 price target on the stock.

Carmike Cinemas (NASDAQ:CKEC) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. The firm currently has $33.90 price target on the stock.

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated (NASDAQ:COKE) was upgraded by analysts at TheStreet to a buy rating.

Cypress Semiconductor (NYSE:CY) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from a neutral rating to an outperform rating. They currently have $13.00 price target on the stock. Zacks’ analyst wrote, “Cypress develops and manufactures a broad range of digital and mixed signal ICs. The company’s second-quarter earnings were higher than the Zacks Consensus Estimate driven by solid expense management and higher gross margins. An improving mix, cost control and robust demand also resulted in a better-than-expected forward guidance. Though an uncertain macro environment and increased pricing pressure remain concerns, we are encouraged about the company’s advanced technology, momentum in new products, increased customer wins and growth initiatives. We are therefore upgrading Cypress shares to Outperform .”

Fidelity National Financial (NYSE:FNF) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. Zacks currently has $28.50 target price on the stock.

Gigamon (NASDAQ:GIMO) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. Zacks currently has $11.20 target price on the stock.

China Lodging Group, Ltd (NASDAQ:HTHT) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from a neutral rating to an outperform rating. They currently have $28.80 price target on the stock.

Javelin Mortgage Investment Corp (NYSE:JMI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. The firm currently has $13.60 price target on the stock.

L Brands (NYSE:LB) was upgraded by analysts at TheStreet to a buy rating.

Lumber Liquidators Holdings (NYSE:LL) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. They currently have $58.00 target price on the stock.

Micronet Enertec Technologies (NASDAQ:MICT) was upgraded by analysts at Aegis from a hold rating to a buy rating.

Primero Mining Corp (NYSE:PPP) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. They currently have $6.10 target price on the stock.

PrivateBancorp (NASDAQ:PVTB) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from a neutral rating to an outperform rating. Zacks currently has $32.00 price target on the stock.

Rofin-Sinar Technologies (NASDAQ:RSTI) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. They currently have $23.80 target price on the stock.

Scientific Games Corp (NASDAQ:SGMS) was upgraded by analysts at Zacks from an underperform rating to a neutral rating. They currently have $14.00 price target on the stock. Zacks’ analyst wrote, “Scientific Games reported dismal second-quarter 2014 results, with a wider year over year loss. However, revenues were inline with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. The sluggish macroeconomic environment is expected to persist for the remaining of FY14, which will hurt company’s results. We believe that the expanded product portfolio that resulted from the acquisitions of WMS and Bally Technologies will boost top line growth. Moreover, acquisition of Bally Technologies will lower competition, thereby expanding its market share. However, we believe that the acquisition will put its balance sheet under further pressure as the company has opted for debt-financing. Moreover, pricing pressure due to slow demand and stiff competition remains a concern. Nevertheless, we believe that the back-to-back acquisitions of WMS and Bally Technologies improves Scientific Games overall growth prospect over the long term. Thus, we upgrade our recommendation from Underperform to Neutral and set a price target of $14.00. “

Apple iPhone 6 Supply issues

Apple says it had more than 4 million pre-orders of its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in 24 hours, exceeding its initial pre-order supply.

The company says the phones will be delivered to customers starting Friday and throughout September, but many won't be delivered until October.

Phones will be available on a walk-in basis beginning Friday at Apple retail stores. Both phones will also be available beginning Friday from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and other carriers and other authorized Apple resellers.

The new phones were announced last week and have larger screens, faster performance, and come equipped with Apple Pay, a contactless payment service. They start at $199 at most wireless providers with a two-year contact

Friday, September 12, 2014

ICYMI Newmont Mining SELLS huge asset

Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM) just announced another sale to raise cash and strengthen its asset base. This time, the company has entered into a binding purchase and sale agreement with Fresnillo plc (OTCPK:FNLPF) to sell its entire 44 percent stake in the Penmont joint venture in Mexico. This will raise even more cash for Newmont to help focus on its producing mines and ensure cash flows to pay dividends and really focus on improving profitable sites. This deal is for approximately $477 million, which will yield cash proceeds of $450 million for Newmont at closing. As Newmont is selling its entire stake......>READ FULL ARTICLE

Hecla strikes gold....errrr...Silver :)

Hecla Mining (NYSE:HL) just announced results from its exploration drilling program on the North and Middle Veins at its San Sebastian property in Durango, Mexico. What is important to remember is that over the last year, the focus of the drilling program has been on targets close to the surface of the Middle and North Veins. The two veins are parallel and located 140 meters apart. The Middle Vein has been intersected by 197 holes and 38 surface trenches and can be traced for nearly two kilometers along strike and to a depth of over 300 meters. The big takeaway is that the upper portion of the Middle Vein contains high-grade mineralization close to the surface that may be suitable to open pit mining. Drill results in the second and third quarters were extremely positive and....READ FULL ARTICLE

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Walmart a key player in Family Dollar/Dollar General Drama

After an earlier offer for Family Dollar was rejected because of antitrust concerns, Dollar General increased its price to $80 a share in cash. Along with the sweetened bid, it pledged to divest as many as 1,500 locations to placate regulators, up from 700 in its earlier offer. It also said it would pay Family Dollar $500 million if the deal failed to garner approval.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the largest retail chain in total revenue, has served as a wild card in the saga. It’s pushing deeper into the market for neighborhood discount stores, potentially providing more competition within the industry. To get the deal past the Federal Trade Commission, Dollar General may have to establish that Wal-Mart and other retailers provide enough of a counterweight to a dominant dollar-store chain.

“We now can begin the antitrust review process and will have an opportunity to present our position directly to the FTC,” Dollar General CEO Rick Dreiling said today. “As we previously have stated, we are confident in the results of our antitrust analysis, and we look forward to a constructive dialogue with the FTC.”

Vera Bradley Earnings

Vera Bradley, Inc. (Nasdaq:VRA) ("Vera Bradley" or the "Company") today announced its financial results for the second quarter and six months ended August 2, 2014.
Net revenues totaled $120.1 million for the current year second quarter, compared to $125.4 million in the prior year second quarter ended August 3, 2013. Net income totaled $7.6 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, for the current year second quarter compared to net income of $15.0 million, or $0.37 per diluted share, in the prior year second quarter.
For the six months ended August 2, 2014, net revenues totaled $233.6 million, compared to $248.4 million in the prior year six months ended August 3, 2013. Net income totaled $14.2 million, or $0.35 per diluted share, for the current year six month period compared to net income of $24.1 million, or $0.59 per diluted share, in the comparable prior year period.
Robert Wallstrom, Chief Executive Officer, noted, "We achieved our earnings per share guidance for the quarter and are reconfirming our EPS guidance for the full year. Second quarter sales were at the high end of our expectations, and, as a percent of sales, SG&A expenses were at the low end of our target."
"Even though the short-term continues to be challenging, I am very pleased with the progress we are making against our long-term product, distribution, and marketing strategies. We are evolving and modernizing our product assortments, expanding our reach through opening new full-line and factory outlet stores, transitioning to a 'made-for-outlet' format in our factory outlet stores, enhancing our online presence, and intensifying and focusing our marketing efforts. We carefully managed our inventories and ended the quarter with a strong cash position and no debt. Importantly, we have assembled the talented and experienced leadership team that will drive the execution of our five-year strategic plan."
Second Quarter Results
Current year second quarter net revenues of $120.1 million were at the top end of the Company's guidance of $113 million to $120 million. Prior year second quarter revenues totaled $125.4 million.
Current year second quarter Direct segment revenues totaled $78.9 million, a 5.2% increase over $75.0 million in the prior year second quarter. In the Company's stores, second quarter year-over-year net revenues grew 3.5%, reflecting the opening of nine full-line and six outlet stores during the past 12 months, which was partially offset by a comparable store sales decline. Total company comparable sales fell 5.3% for the quarter (which includes a 14.2% decline in store sales, partially offset by a 9.3% increase in e-commerce sales, including direct-to-consumer eBay sales). Going forward, the Company will include eBay sales in its comparable sales calculations; refer to the attached schedule for historical comparable sales data adjusted to include eBay sales. Excluding eBay, total company comparable sales fell 8.8% for the quarter. As expected, second quarter comparable sales were negatively impacted by year-over-year declines in traffic and underperformance of the product offering.  
Indirect segment revenues decreased 18.2% to $41.2 million from $50.4 million in the prior year second quarter, primarily due to lower orders from the Company's specialty retail accounts as well as a reduction in the number of specialty retail accounts.  
Gross profit for the quarter totaled $64.1 million, or 53.3% of net revenues, compared to $71.8 million, or 57.2% of net revenues, in the prior year second quarter. The year-over-year decline in gross margin rate was primarily related to overhead costs deleveraging and modestly increased year-over-year online promotional activity. The second quarter gross margin rate was slightly below guidance of 53.5% to 54.0%, primarily due to a modest increase in online promotional activity.
SG&A expense totaled $51.8 million, or 43.1% of net revenues, in the current year second quarter, compared to $48.3 million, or 38.6% of net revenues, in the prior year second quarter. As expected, SG&A dollars increased over the prior year primarily due to investments related to achieving the five-year strategic plan including key management additions, new store expenses, and marketing and e-commerce initiatives. The SG&A expense rate was at the low end of the 43.0% to 44.5% guidance primarily due to cost containment efforts and sales at the high end of guidance.   
Operating income totaled $12.8 million, or 10.6% of net revenues, in the current year second quarter, compared to operating income of $24.1 million, or 19.2% of net revenues, in the prior year second quarter.  
The effective tax rate was 40.3% for the quarter compared to 37.7% in the prior year second quarter. The year-over-year increase in the effective rate was due primarily to state tax matters including an incremental reserve related to an ongoing state income tax audit.
Six Month Results
Current year net revenues for the six months totaled $233.6 million, compared to $248.4 million in the same period last year.
Direct segment revenues totaled $152.4 million for the six months ended August 2, 2014, a 2.5% increase over $148.7 million in the prior year comparable period. In the Company's stores, current year-over-year net revenues grew 4.5%, reflecting the opening of nine full-line and six outlet stores during the past 12 months, which was partially offset by a comparable store sales decline. Total company comparable sales fell 6.4% for the six months (which includes a 14.3% decline in store sales, partially offset by a 5.0% increase in e-commerce sales, including eBay). Excluding eBay sales, total company comparable sales fell 9.1% for the six months.
For the six months, Indirect segment revenues decreased 18.6% to $81.2 million from $99.7 million in the prior year, primarily due to lower orders from the Company's specialty retail accounts as well as a reduction in the number of specialty retail accounts.  
Gross profit for the six months totaled $124.6 million, or 53.3% of net revenues, compared to $140.2 million, or 56.5% of net revenues, in the comparable prior year period. The year-over-year decline in gross margin rate was primarily related to overhead costs deleveraging and increased year-over-year promotional activity.
SG&A expense totaled $103.1 million, or 44.1% of net revenues, in the current year six months, compared to $103.6 million, or 41.7% of net revenues, in the prior year period.
Operating income totaled $23.6 million, or 10.1% of net revenues, in the current year six-month period, compared to operating income of $39.3 million, or 15.8% of net revenues, in the prior year period.   
The effective tax rate was 39.6% for the six months compared to 38.2% in the prior year six months. 
Cash flow from operations for the six months totaled $32.8 million, compared to $27.0 million for the same period last year. The improvement was driven primarily by a reduction in inventory levels.
Cash and cash equivalents as of August 2, 2014 totaled $79.1 million compared to $9.3 million at the end of last year's second quarter. The Company had no debt outstanding at August 2, 2014. Quarter-end inventory was $112.0 million, below guidance of $118 million to $128 million and compared to $142.9 million last year. Net capital spending for the six months totaled $12.2 million.
Recent Events
On June 4, 2014, the Company entered into a five-year agreement with Mitsubishi Corporation Fashion Company and Look Inc. to import and distribute Vera Bradley (VRA) products in Japan. As a result of moving to this wholesale business model, the Company will exit its direct business in Japan during the third quarter of fiscal 2015 and will account for this business as a discontinued operation from that point forward.  The Company expects to incur pre-tax charges related to the exit from Japan during the third quarter of approximately $2.0 million, equating to $0.03 per share, which will be reflected in discontinued operations.  Approximately $1.0 million of that amount relates to a non-cash charge for a currency translation loss that has accumulated in equity since entering the Japanese market over three years ago. The remaining charge relates to the write off of certain assets, employee severance, and other exit charges. The new wholesale business in Japan is included in the Indirect segment guidance below, but given that the new Look-operated distribution points are not expected to be opened until late in the year, the impact to the current year sales and earnings guidance is minimal.  
On September 9, 2014, the Company's board of directors approved a share repurchase program authorizing up to $40 million in common stock repurchases. The new share repurchase program expires in October 2016.
Third Quarter and Fiscal Year 2015 Outlook
For the third quarter of fiscal 2015, on a continuing operations basis, the Company expects:
  • Net revenues to be in the range of $123 million to $128 million compared to prior year third quarter revenues of $128.9 million. 
  • The gross margin rate to range from 52.0% to 53.0% compared to 55.2% in the prior year third quarter. 
  • SG&A as a percent of sales to range from 43.0% to 44.5% compared to 36.9% in the prior year third quarter. 
  • Diluted earnings per share from continuing operations to be in the range of $0.18 to $0.20, based on diluted weighted-average shares outstanding of 40.7 million and an effective tax rate of 36.5%.  Diluted earnings per share from continuing operations totaled $0.39 in the prior year third quarter. 
The Company expects inventory to be $125 million to $135 million at the end of the third quarter, compared to $150.5 million at the end of last year's third quarter.
For fiscal 2015, on a continuing operations basis, the Company expects:
  • Net revenues to be in the range of $520 million to $530 million compared to $530.9 million last year. 
  • The gross margin rate to range from 52.5% to 53.5% compared to 55.0% last year. 
  • SG&A as a percent of sales to range from 40.5% to 41.5% compared to 37.9% last year.
  • Diluted earnings per share from continuing operations to be in the range of $1.00 to $1.10, based on diluted weighted-average shares outstanding of 40.7 million and an effective tax rate of 38.5%. Diluted earnings per share from continuing operations totaled $1.48 last year.
  • Net capital spending of approximately $40 million.