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U.S. companies face boycott threats, mounting pressure to take sides in America’s voting rights battle

U.S. corporations are facing pressure to oppose Republican election laws in Georgia and Texas that critics say disproportionately harm voters of color.

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Protesters gather outside of the Georgia State Capitol to protest HB 531, which would place tougher restrictions on voting in Georgia, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 4, 2021.

Dustin Chambers | Reuters

U.S. corporations face growing pressure and threats of boycotts to publicly oppose Republican-backed election legislation in Georgia and other states that critics say harm the voting rights of Black Americans.

The opposition intensified on Friday when Major League Baseball announced it would no longer hold the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta this summer, with commissioner Robert Manfred saying the league “fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last week signed an election overhaul bill into law that adds new identification requirements for absentee voting while giving the state legislature increased oversight on how elections are run.

The legislation prohibits third-party groups from giving food or water to voters who are waiting in line and places strict guidelines on the availability and location of ballot drop boxes. It also mandates two Saturdays of early voting leading up to general elections. Only one day was previously required.

Civil rights groups and activists have pressured some of Georgia’s biggest corporations, including Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, to oppose the law. Coke and Delta did not vocally oppose the legislation prior to its passage, but their CEOs have since condemned the law.

Following the bill’s passage, pressure on companies started to increase after Merck CEO Ken Frazier and other Black executives organized a public campaign to urge firms to call out the legislation. Many companies had taken broad stances in support of voting rights but sought to avoid taking specific positions on the Georgia law.

It’s unclear whether a business community backlash will change the outcome in Georgia, where the law has been passed. Civil rights groups have challenged it in court and President Joe Biden said the U.S. Justice Department would examine the law, which he called an “atrocity.”

Coke CEO James Quincey told CNBC on Wednesday the company had “always opposed this legislation” and called it “wrong.”

“Now that it’s passed, we’re coming out more publicly,” Quincey said.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian initially said the legislation had “improved considerably” and offered broad support for voting rights. He reversed course Wednesday in a memo to employee, saying the “final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.” Delta is Georgia’s largest employer.

Bastian also ripped Republican lawmakers’ motivation for the law, suggesting the “entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections.”

In November, Biden became the first Democrat since 1992 to win Georgia. Voters also elected two Democrats to the Senate, Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, in runoff elections in January. Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans have falsely claimed there was rampant voter fraud in Georgia’s elections last year.

AT&T is based in Texas but gave money to Kemp’s campaign and cosponsors of the legislation. The company’s CEO John Stankey told CNBC in a statement:

“We understand that election laws are complicated, not our company’s expertise and ultimately the responsibility of elected officials. But, as a company, we have a responsibility to engage. For this reason, we are working together with other businesses through groups like the Business Roundtable to support efforts to enhance every person’s ability to vote.”

In an interview Wednesday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” Kemp dismissed the corporate backlash over the state’s election legislation and said he’s “glad to deal with it.” He added, “I would encourage these CEOs to look at other states that they’re doing business in and compare what the real facts are to Georgia.”

Voting rights activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams this week urged critics not to boycott Georgia’s major companies yet over their failure to oppose the election law. Instead, Abrams said companies should have a chance to publicly oppose the law and support federal election legislation before getting met with a boycott.

“The companies that stood silently by or gave mealy-mouthed responses during the debate were wrong,” Abrams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “What people want to know now is where they stand on this fundamental issue of voting rights.”

Some faith leaders in Georgia have called for an April 7 boycott of Coke, Delta and Home Depot, according to the AJC. However, the religious leaders have suggested the boycott could be avoided if the companies take further stands, like calling on lawmakers in other states to pull legislative proposals that they say would restrict voting access.

Texas election bills face scrutiny

While Georgia’s law has been signed, election bills in a number of other states are beginning to face scrutiny, particularly in Texas. When pressuring companies to speak up, Merck’s Frazier contended Georgia is “the leading edge of a movement all around this country to restrict voting access.”

There have been 361 bills in 47 states that include provisions that would restrict voting access, as of March 24, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice.

The proposals in statehouses across the U.S. come as Democrats in Washington seek to advance legislation called the For the People Act. Proponents say it would make it easier to register and vote, while also preventing gerrymandering and reforming campaign finance rules. Some Republicans who oppose the legislation say it would result in federal overreach into state elections.

Last month, the U.S. House passed their version of the For the People Act without a single Republican vote in favor. Its future in the Senate is uncertain since it needs at least 10 GOP votes to overcome a filibuster and move to a final vote.

Powerhouse corporations in Texas are also taking aim at bills that voting rights advocates argue would make voting in Texas more difficult.

Senate Bill 7 was approved by the upper house of the state legislature Thursday. In the Texas House of Representatives, another bill known as House Bill 6 has been under consideration.

American Airlines, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, opposed Senate Bill 7 in a statement on Thursday. “To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it,” the airline said.

Dell CEO Michael Dell — whose tech firm is based near Austin, the state capital — wrote in a tweet that the company did not support House Bill 6.

“Free, fair, equitable access to voting is the foundation of American democracy. Those rights — especially for women, communities of color — have been hard-earned,” Dell wrote. “Governments should ensure citizens have their voices heard. HB6 does the opposite, and we are opposed to it.”

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/03/georgia-texas-gop-election-laws-us-companies-face-pressure-to-oppose.html

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Oracle guidance misses expectations, stock drops

Oracle reported better-than-expected results and showed accelerating growth compared with the immediate impact of the coronavirus last year.

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Safra Catz, co-chief executive officer of Oracle Corp.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Oracle shares fell 5% in extended trading on Tuesday after the company offered lower quarterly revenue guidance than expected as it plans to increase capital expenditures to support cloud computing workloads. The guidance came on Oracle’s earnings call after the enterprise software maker issued better-than-expected earnings and faster revenue growth than last quarter.

Here’s how the company did:

  • Earnings: $1.54 per share, adjusted, vs. $1.31 per share as expected by analysts, according to Refinitiv.
  • Revenue: $11.23 billion, vs. $11.04 billion as expected by analysts, according to Refinitiv.

With respect to guidance, Oracle CEO Safra Catz called for 94 cents to 98 cents in adjusted earnings per share and 3% to 5% revenue growth in the fiscal first quarter. Analysts polled by Refinitiv are expecting fiscal first-quarter adjusted earnings of $1.03 per share and the equivalent of 3% revenue growth.

“We expect to roughly double our cloud capex spend in FY 2022 to nearly $4 billion,” Catz said. “We are confident that the increased return in the cloud business more than justifies this increased investment, and our margins will expand over time.”

Revenue rose 8% year over year in Oracle’s fiscal fourth quarter, which ended on May 31, according to a statement. In the prior quarter revenue grew 3%. The accelerating growth benefited from a comparison against the quarter last year when the coronavirus arrived in the U.S. and Oracle’s revenue fell some 6%.

Oracle’s top segment by revenue, cloud services and license support, generated $7.39 billion, which was up 8% and above the FactSet consensus estimate of $7.32 billion in revenue. The company said revenue from its second-generation cloud infrastructure doubled in the quarter, but it did not provide the figure in dollars.

The cloud license and on-premises license segment contributed $2.14 billion in revenue, up 9% and more than the $2.05 billion consensus.

The company’s hardware revenue, at $882 million, was exactly in line with analysts’ estimates, declining 2%.

During the quarter Oracle announced new public-cloud computing options that draw on Arm-based chips, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a longstanding case between Oracle and Google, declaring that Google’s copying of Java code was fair use.

Notwithstanding the after-hours move, Oracle stock is up 26% since the start of the year, while the S&P 500 index is up 13% over the same period.

In May, Barclays analysts lowered their rating on the stock to the equivalent of hold from the equivalent of buy after the price had moved upward as investors rotated out of growth and into value. “To see further relative outperformance a growth acceleration at Oracle is needed, and we don’t have enough tangible data points for this yet,” the analysts wrote.

WATCH: The great tech tug-o-war

Here’s how the company did:

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/15/oracle-orcl-earnings-q4-2021.html

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RH beats earnings, hikes outlook as retail rebound boosts high-end home goods; shares jump

Shares of the high-end furniture retailer surged Wednesday after the company beat analysts’ profit and sales estimates for the fiscal first quarter.

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Jason Kempin | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Shares of the high-end furniture retailer RH surged in extended trading Wednesday after the company beat analysts’ profit and sales estimates for the fiscal first quarter.

RH also hiked its full-year outlook, building on the momentum it’s seeing in the luxury home category, and gave a stronger-than-expected sales forecast for the second quarter.

In a letter to shareholders, Chief Executive Officer Gary Friedman said the remainder of this year “will surely be a tale of two halves” for the retail industry. But he said that “the un-masking of the general public could lead to a Roaring Twenties type of consumer exuberance.”

The company’s stock was last up more than 7%.

Here’s how RH did in the quarter ended May 1 compared with what analysts were anticipating, using Refinitiv estimates:

  • Earnings per share: $4.89 adjusted vs. $4.10 expected
  • Revenue: $861 million vs. $758 million expected

RH’s net income for the fiscal first quarter grew to $130.7 million, or $4.19 per share, compared with a loss of $3.2 million, or 17 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time adjustments, it earned $4.89 per share, topping expectations for $4.10.

Revenue surged 78% to $861 million from $483 million a year earlier. That also beat expectations for $758 million.

Friedman said that a strong housing and renovation market, a record stock market, low interest rates, and the reopening of the U.S. economy all bode well for the company in the quarters ahead.

RH hiked its fiscal 2021 outlook for revenue growth to a range of 25% to 30%, compared with a prior range of 15% to 20%. Analysts had been looking for a 19.7% increase year over year.

For its fiscal second quarter, RH expects revenue to grow 35% to 37%. Analysts had been looking for a 27.2% jump.

The company is preparing to kick off its global expansion in the spring of 2022, starting with England. To drive future growth, it is also considering expanding into new services, potentially into areas such as landscape architecture. It currently offers interior design consulting.

RH shares are up roughly 37% year to date. The company has a market cap of about $13 billion.

Find the full earnings press release from RH here.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/09/rh-earnings-q1-2021.html

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Blue Origin auctions seat on first spaceflight with Jeff Bezos for $28 million

The winning bidder will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20.

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A New Shepard rocket launches on a test flight.

Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos‘ space venture Blue Origin auctioned off a seat on its upcoming first crewed spaceflight on Saturday for $28 million.

The winning bidder, whose name wasn’t released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20. The company said it will reveal the name of the auction winner in the coming weeks.

Bidding opened at $4.8 million but surpassed $20 million within the first few minutes of the auction. The auction’s proceeds will be donated to Blue Origin’s education-focused nonprofit Club for the Future, which supports kids interested in future STEM careers.

Blue Origin director of astronaut and orbital sales Ariane Cornell said during the auction webcast that New Shepard’s first passenger flight will carry four people, including Bezos, his brother, the auction winner and a fourth person to be announced later.

Autonomous spaceflight

New Shepard, a rocket that carries a capsule to an altitude of over 340,000 feet, has flown more than a dozen successful test flights without passengers, including one in April at the company’s facility in the Texas desert. It’s designed to carry up to six people and flies autonomously — without needing a pilot. The capsule has massive windows to give passengers a view of the earth below during about three minutes in zero gravity, before returning to Earth.

Blue Origin’s system launches vertically, and both the rocket and capsule are reusable. The boosters land vertically on a concrete pad at the company’s facility in Van Horn, Texas, while the capsules land using a set of parachutes.

The interior of the latest New Shepard capsule

Blue Origin

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 and still owns the company, funding it through share sales of his Amazon stock.

July 20 is notable because it also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Branson and Musk

VSS Unity fires its rocket engine shortly after launching on its third spaceflight on May 22, 2021.

Virgin Galactic

Bezos and fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson are in a race to get to space, but each in different ways. Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic are competing to take passengers on short flights to the edge of space, a sector known as suborbital tourism, while Musk’s SpaceX is launching private passengers on further, multi-day flights, in what is known as orbital tourism.

Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have been developing rocket-powered spacecraft, but that is where the similarities end. While Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launches vertically from the ground, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is released mid-air and returns to Earth in a glide for a runway landing, like an aircraft.

Virgin Galactic’s system is also flown by two pilots, while Blue Origin’s launches without one. Branson’s company has also flown a test spaceflight with a passenger onboard, although the company has three spaceflight tests remaining before it begins flying commercial customers – which is planned to start in 2022.

SpaceX launches its Crew Dragon spacecraft to orbit atop its reusable Falcon 9 rocket, having sent 10 astronauts to the International Space Station on three missions to date.

In addition to the government flights, Musk’s company is planning to launch multiple private astronaut missions in the year ahead – beginning with the all-civilian Inspiration4 mission that is planned for September. SpaceX is also launching at least four private missions for Axiom Space, starting early next year.

Blue Origin’s auction may have netted $28 million, but a seat on a suborbital spacecraft is typically much less expensive. Virgin Galactic has historically sold reservations between $200,000 and $250,000 per ticket, and more recently charged the Italian Air Force about $500,000 per ticket for a training spaceflight.

Musk’s orbital missions are more costly than the suborbital flights, with NASA paying SpaceX about $55 million per seat for spaceflights to the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft named “Resilience” is seen docked to the International Space Station.

NASA

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The winning bidder, whose name wasn’t released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch on July 20. The company said it will reveal the name of the auction winner in the coming weeks.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/12/jeff-bezos-blue-origin-auctions-spaceflight-seat-for-28-million.html

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