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At Wednesday’s introduction of the Pixel 2 smartphone, Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Google also sneaked in two new devices in its Google Home product line. The Home Mini is a $49 voice-controlled speaker and the Home Max is a $399 device that includes all the features of the Home Mini plus far more powerful sound capabilities.
It’s not too hard to figure the market the Home Mini is aiming at. Amazon.com Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) Echo Dot is another hockey puck-sized speaker selling for the same price — a price point well below the original Google Home device.
The Home Mini will be available at retail on October 19 and the Home Max launches in the United States in December with a free, 12-month subscription to YouTube Red to sweeten the offer.
Senior IHS Markit analyst Paul Erickson noted that the Amazon’s ability to expand the footprint for its Alexa voice-recognition software quickly and cheaply with Echo Dot forced Google to come up with a competing product as quickly as possible. Erickson also said:
Though Google retains long-term ecosystem advantages for Google Assistant in the Android mobile device base, penetration of the Chromecast built-in standard, and presence across numerous platforms, it remained outgunned by Amazon in growing its footprint in the home via the increasingly important smart speaker market. … With the launch of Google Home Mini, Google now has rough parity with Amazon in terms of market-penetrating low-end affordability of its smart speakers …”
The story for the Home Mini doesn’t end there however. Amazon has bundled the Echo Dot with its Fire TV products at an “aggressive” price, noted Erickson, who believes that Google will have to make at least a similar offer in order to attract buyers.
The $399 Home Max now has the distinction of being the highest priced smart speaker on the market, displacing Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) $349 HomePod, which had been knocked for being too expensive. But where Amazon and now Google have full product lines, Apple has only a single device priced way above the sub-$100 sector where all the action is. Erickson concludes:
Though positioning issues remain for both Home and Home Max, Google now joins Amazon in having a smart speaker line with both depth and affordability. Collectively, these two players continue to build a competitive environment that is increasingly maturing and strengthening ahead of Apple’s HomePod debut in December. The pressure is now on Apple to perform with HomePod and Siri, and the company’s performance in the smart speaker market in the Q4 holiday season will be a telling bellwether of the year to come.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) played a new card to help it compete with Amazon.com. Customers will be able to return items they bought on Walmart.com in a matter of minutes. Customers also will receive almost immediate credit for the returns.
Walmart said of its new returns policy:
Walmart is now focusing its attention on returns, with the introduction of Mobile Express Returns – an innovative, industry-first experience that combines Walmart’s more than 4,700 locations with the Walmart app to make returning an item fast, easy – and maybe even a little enjoyable. The new simplified returns process will be available starting in early November for items sold and shipped by Walmart.com, followed by store purchases in early 2018. Walmart is also working to create a similar streamlined returns process for items sold by third-party sellers on Walmart.com.
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According to Daniel Eckert, senior vice president, Walmart Services and Digital Acceleration, Walmart U.S.:
We know that returning an item and waiting for a refund, especially for a product purchased online, isn’t always seamless, so we’ve completely transformed the process for our customers – whether they are shopping in stores or at Walmart.com. By leveraging our physical stores and the Walmart app, we’re changing the returns game in ways that only Walmart can do. Throughout the year, we’ve added features to our app to make it an even more powerful, time-saving tool for our customers shopping online and in our stores; Mobile Express Returns is our latest enhancement.
The process is helped by the fact that, according to Walmart, 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store.
As the holidays approach and the number of returns increases, Walmart may have found an important edge over all its competition.
Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) announced this morning that it delivered 202 commercial jets in the third quarter, well above the 169 it delivered in the first quarter and the 183 the company delivered in the second quarter. For the first three quarters of the year Boeing has delivered 554 commercial passenger airplanes.
The company also announced this morning that it has signed an agreement to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., a firm that specializes in autonomous systems and electric propulsion systems. The terms were not disclosed and Aurora will operate under Boeing’s engineering, test, and technology group.
In addition to delivering 202 airplanes last quarter, Boeing also added 127 new orders to its backlog.
Here’s the run-down of Boeing’s third quarter and year-to-date deliveries, by family:
737 family: 145; 381 year-to-date
747 family: 4; 8
767 family: 2; 7
777 family: 16; 58
787 family: 35; 100
Boeing delivered 748 commercial jets in 2016 and in January forecast deliveries of 760 to 765 for 2017, roughly equal to the 762 planes it delivered in 2015. To meet the low end of that forecast Boeing needs to deliver 206 commercial jets in the fourth quarter. Last year the company delivered 185 planes in the fourth quarter.
In Boeing’s defense, space, and security division, the company delivered 3 new and 15 remanufactured AH-64 Apache helicopters; 2 new and 9 renewed CH-47 Chinook helicopters; 4 F-15 fighters; 6 F/A-18 fighters, and 5 P-8 reconnaissance planes.
Boeing’s stock traded up about 0.7% late Thursday afternoon at $257.64 in a 52-week range of $131.39 to $259.30. The 12-month consensus price target on the stock is $268. 85
The US wind power is booming and the tailwinds will continue. Wind is among the fastest growing employers and posted an 11% hike in output in the first quarter from Q1 of 2016, generating 68,000 megawatt hours. That is far less than what fossil fuels yield fuels yield but a huge, but a huge leap from 2,000 MWH in 2001. Wind's potential capacity beats other renewables. Turbines supplied 5.5% of US power in 2016. Powered by gusty Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Dakotas. wind could eventually supply 50% of some states and power grids' electricity needs. Bipartisan political support could expand it more if the president heeds calls from governors for R&D funding, tax credits and new regs to let turbines spin faster Already going faster: Turbine technicians, who make $52,000 annually on average.
NFL TICKET PRICES UP
NFL ticket prices have risen sharply this year, up an average of 22% through the first four games of the season. Based on the data, worries that player protests would harm results are unfounded, at least based on what people pay to get into games. Another measure, TV ratings, has been inconclusive.TicketIQ looked at average prices across all the exchanges it tracks, including the NFL Ticket Exchange. The 22% increase took the average price for an NFL ticket to $247, up from $211 for the same four weeks a year ago.
The only week in which prices rose modestly was Week 4, which was well after the large protests happened. Ticket prices for Week 4 increased 5% to $216. Week 1 ticket prices rose 40% to an average of $286. Week 2 prices were up 21% to $281. Week 3 prices rose 22% to $203. There might be an argument that the 5% increase for Week 4 was in reaction to Week 3 protests, but that cannot be proven. Week 5 prices will be telling.From the NFL’s standpoint, the worry that ticket prices would collapse is unfounded. Some analysts worried the protests would do more to erode TV ratings, ticket prices and attendance even more than player concussion issues have. NFL ratings have recently been spotty, and in some cases down. However, there is no evidence this is a permanent trend. Week 3 TV ratings were good news for the NFL. According to Sports Illustrated:
How did the controversy surrounding Donald Trump and national anthem protests affect the NFL’s ratings for Week 3?As of Monday morning, it’s a mixed bad. Ratings for Sunday’s games on CBS, FOX and NBC were down four percent over Week 3 in 2016. However, when the rating for the Cowboys-Cardinals game, to be played Monday night on ESPN, gets factored in, Week 3 of this season is expected to be up over last season.
Ticket prices affect NFL team profits, but not as much as television revenue. Several reports show that the TV revenue pie for the 2016 season was $7.8 billion, up 19% from the previous season. Unlike ticket revenue, NFL teams split TV revenue equally among all 32 teams.
Despite the overarching importance of television sales, ticket prices are a canary in a coal mine. So far, the news from the canary is good.
Average Price 2016 2017 Difference
Week 1 $203 $286 $83 40.89%
Week 2 $232 $281 $49 21.12%
Week 3 $166 $203 $37 22.29%
Week 4 $205 $216 $11 5.37%
Total $202 $247 $45 22.33%