If you saw the news last week about the Barbie ad featuring a boy with a Mohawk-inspired haircut who called a new Barbie “fierce,” you know Mattel Inc. got a good deal of favorable buzz about it.
Mattel of El Segundo could sure use some nice attention. It’s been slowly sinking for years now, its traditional toys less popular with tech-loving kids. So the ad, lauded for breaking gender stereotypes, got some favorable reaction for the company. But here’s a question: Will that ad result in more sales for Mattel or create a backlash among traditional parents? Will the good vibe turn sour?
Indeed, it seems good news for Mattel often turns into bad news. Early last week, for example, Mattel’s stock bumped up 4 percent, about the same time that the boy commercial was getting attention. But, alas, it turned out that the increase probably was less because of the boy with the rad ’do and more because of the revelation that Jana Partners had taken a 2.7 percent stake in Mattel’s stock. Jana is a hedge fund that agitates for shareholder-boosting change. That’s not a good thing if you’re a Mattel exec.
Another example of good news that’s really not so good: Mattel’s 6 percent stock dividend. That may make the stock appear exceedingly lovely to yield-starved investors. But the reason that dividend is so high is relative; it’s because the company’s stock has sunk so low, down 21 percent over the past year.
In a post on Seeking Alpha last week, one analyst pointed out that Hasbro’s 3 percent dividend is probably a better buy than Mattel’s 6 percent. He explained that both companies traditionally pay out about 60 percent of their earnings in dividends. But since Hasbro’s been doing great overall, its current payout is below 50 percent of its earnings, implying a dividend increase. Mattel, because its earnings are down, has a current payout of about 170 percent, which is clearly unsustainable. That implies a dividend cut; perhaps a big one.
In other words, you could buy Mattel thinking you’re going to get a 6 percent dividend but end up with less than the 3 percent Hasbro will pay.
Which brings us back to that commercial. It was cute. It sure got attention and mostly positive. It may well be beneficial to the company.
But it also had the whiff of desperation to it. For such a culture-jarring act, the ad arrived without warning. It seemed out of character for the company, not part of a careful, thought-out, long-term campaign that’s needed if one endeavors to change culture. It felt like the kind of distressed decision that an anxious company makes.
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It’s always reassuring to see a company move into California. Or announce an expansion here. When such a decision is made, it often gets a fair amount of hoopla, hailed by political types and lauded by business organizations. And rightly so.
Joe Vranich is the guy on the other side of such deals. He has a relocation business in Irvine, and he has taken it upon himself to chronicle the businesses that leave the state.
He compiled his stats, and earlier this month he came out with a report that says about 9,000 businesses left the state, either in whole or in part, over the last seven years. That figure is an estimate; he multiplies the number of known departures by about six. Most businesses that leave do so quietly.
His report says Los Angeles County lost the highest number of businesses, but that’s not surprising since it is the biggest county. It says Texas is the No. 1 destination, again not a surprise. Nevada, Arizona and Colorado are the next most popular.
But here’s the big question: Are more businesses coming or going? In this war of economic development, are we winning or losing?
Vranich can’t answer. He says nobody really keeps stats on that, and you end up with apples and oranges if you try to figure it out.
So, for now, Vranich’s report is a simple reminder that the state isn’t just gaining businesses but continues losing them, too.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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