Companies & Industries

Winners & Losers: More bad news for Sears, but Macy's catches a break

Our latest almanac of business news

W&L

BIG LOSER

BIG LOSER

Sears

FINAL SALE?

A major mall anchor for decades, last month’s announcement that the department store would be selling back the leases on many of its biggest locations, including its flagship store in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, doesn’t make Sears’s future seem very rosy. Sears’s move into the Eaton Centre—along with several other prime locations across the country—following the collapse of the centre’s namesake in 2002 gave the retail giant a huge advantage over the competition. But its stores have faltered in recent years, with the Bay and Quebec’s Simons seriously stealing Sears’s mojo. Former CEO Calvin McDonald, the store’s supposed saviour, made some progress reversing the company’s confusing promotional campaigns and questionable merchandise selections, but even he couldn’t stick it out long enough to see through his own three-year turnaround plan. He ran off earlier this year to become president and CEO of French beauty retailer Sephora Americas. His successor, Doug Campbell, is picking up right where McDonald left off, including the selling of major leases. This most recent round of sell-backs will net the chain $400 million, temporarily lifting its bottom line. But with Nordstrom, Simons and Saks all fighting over the Eaton Centre space Sears couldn’t manage, it’ll likely take a lot more than a quick cash infusion to make Sears a player again.

LOSER

LOSER

JPMorgan Chase

IT SOUNDS LIKE A PERSON

Five years after the financial crisis, the U.S. Justice Department is finally ready to throw around some blame. JPMorgan Chase is facing a $13-billion fine to settle several investigations into mortgage dealings that were partly responsible for the crisis that threw the world economy into a tailspin. Though $13 billion is half of the profit the bank made in 2012, JPMorgan also has $2.4 trillion in assets, so….That’s probably why JP Morgan is so willing to write a cheque, along with the fact that fighting the charges would likely be a losing battle. And by making a corporation the public face of shame for the crisis, the U.S. government can hang on to its record of not having criminally charged one single Wall Street exec for the crisis. Case closed.

LOSER

LOSER

Dell

DUDE, YOU SMELL LIKE A DELL

It’s official—there is no way things can get worse for PC sales. Dell customers have been complaining that their new laptops smell like cat urine. Given that cats are the Internet’s biggest star, Dell managed to avoid trouble for a while since many customers made the assumption that their cat actually had urinated on their laptop. But after some customers had their machines replaced and noticed the urine smell came in the same box as their computer, the jig was up. Dell said the smell was caused by a problem in the manufacturing process and promised no actual cat urine was involved.

LOSER

LOSER

Pappy’s

THE BOURBON IDENTITY

Fresh off a star-making feature profile in the recently published CB Manual of Style (now on sale!), the distillers of Pappy Van Winkle Kentucky bourbon were the unfortunate victims of a heist of maple-syrup-reserve-like proportions last month. Once considered akin to owning your own spittoon, drinking Kentucky bourbon has become de rigueur, thanks to modern-day hipsters with daddy issues. As a result, Pappy, which is released in small, coveted batches, sells for $65 a shot—one dollar for every case recently stolen from its warehouse. Police believe the robbery was an inside job, but have no leads. Some free advice for the detectives on the case: check out the guy with the too-short pants, suspenders and old-timey moustache who hasn’t been coming in to work recently.

WINNER

WINNER

Macy’s

IT’S NOT A GOOD THING

Following a long summer’s courtship, Martha Stewart’s two wealthy suitors have come to a gentleman’s agreement over who has the right to her (house)wares. Stewart originally promised to be true to Macy’s department store, giving it the exclusive right to sell her brand. But earlier this year, Stewart was caught stepping out with J. C. Penney against the wishes—and legally binding contract—of Macy’s. Macy’s found out about the affair in the worst possible way (a phone call from Stewart), and took both parties to court. Days before a ruling was to be passed down, Penney admitted Macy’s was the bigger man and stepped aside (though it will still sell some of Stewart’s window treatments, lighting and rugs). Penney will also have to give back the 11 million shares it acquired in the deal and its two seats on her board. It’s always the boards of directors that suffer most in a breakup.

WINNER

WINNER

Julian Assange

ANYONE WITH A NAME LIKE ‘CUMBERBATCH’ IS HIDING SOMETHING

You wouldn’t think John Carter, the Lone Ranger and Julian Assange would have much in common—well, aside from their insistence in helping those they deem downtrodden—but they do: all three are box-office poison. Unhappy with Hollywood’s plan to leak The Fifth Estate via its international network of movie theatres, Assange, the WikiLeaks founder on whom the film is based, set out to sabotage its release. Assange and his WikiGang were extremely vocal about their hatred of the movie, which they called a complete work of fiction, and even released their own documentary as a free download to compete with the Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle. The ploy worked (with a bit of help from the many critics who panned it), giving The Fifth Estate the worst opening of 2013. More important, it’s a major victory for the suppression of free speech.

LOSER

LOSER

Twitter

ONLY ALLOWED SIX SECONDS OF MUSIC

Given that seemingly 90% of the people on Twitter insisted on offering up their two cents on the recent death of Lou Reed, you’d think a Twitter music app would be more successful than it was. And yet, a mere six months after its launch, Twitter is shutting down its #Music app. Many believe the demise stemmed from Twitter’s failure to integrate the app into its main stream, as it did with Vine. That said, with an IPO on the horizon, Twitter now has a badge of honour that makes it one of the tech big boys: a failed music app, à la Microsoft’s Zune and Apple’s Ping. Congratulations, Twitter.

LOSER

LOSER

Captchas

CAPTCHA IF YOU CAN

It might soon be harder to tell if your co-worker is a robot. Vicarious, a tech startup based in San Francisco, claims to have produced software that can crack captchas, the messy crossed out letters and numbers that certain websites ask users to copy to prove they aren’t spam. A spokesman for the company said Vicarious has no evil plan, nor is it looking to sell the software—they simply did it to prove they could. Sites like Yahoo who employ captchas won’t be the real losers here—that will be the Bangladesh workers who make 50¢ an hour to type seven Captchas per minute for who knows what purpose.

LOSER

LOSER

Heinz

APPARENTLY THERE ARE OTHER KINDS

When McDonald’s temporarily parted ways with Heinz ketchup in the 1970s, it was because of the latter’s inability to deal with a tomato shortage (oh, 1970s…). Well, the Golden Arches is looking for a new condiment supplier once again, given that the former CEO of nemesis burger chain Burger King is now running Heinz. Frankly, with McDonald’s chasing an older demographic than in the past (thanks, clown-hating killjoys), McDonald’s would be wise to make a deal with a tomato sauce manufacturer who still calls it “catsup,” something the old-timers who drink coffee at McDonald’s will love.

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