Despite oil prices recording a third-consecutive weekly gain and rising to a seven-week high, fears that prices aren't sustainable in the near term and investor uncertainty about a possible Fed rate hike in September caused stocks to end up basically flat for the week. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) and The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) traded 0.01% and 0.13% lower, respectively.
Even though the markets didn't move much, there were some big headlines for Detroit's second-largest automaker, an industry leader getting even bigger, and a continued bumpy road for a former book retail giant.
Join the club
It was a pretty big week for Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), which thus far has been pretty quiet about its plans for autonomous driving. Investors knew the company was working on other smart mobility projects that included ride-hailing testing, among many other things, but as far as plans for driverless cars -- which has been the hot topic within the automotive industry this year -- Ford held plans close to its chest.
That changed this week as Ford announced its plan to have a high-volume, fully autonomous SAE level 4-capable vehicle in 2021. Ford also plans for the vehicle to be in commercial operation within a ride-hailing or ride-sharing service during the same time frame.
"The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford's moving assembly line did 100 years ago," said Mark Fields, Ford president and CEO, in a press release. "We're dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people -- not just those who can afford luxury vehicles."
Talking the talk is one thing; walking the walk, especially with something this challenging, is a whole different ballgame. Fortunately, Ford is building off of more than a decade in autonomous-vehicle research, and plans to triple its autonomous vehicle test fleet in order to be the largest test fleet of any automaker. Ford is also doubling its Silicon Valley team and more than doubling its Palo Alto campus in an attempt to lure in more technology talent, as more of the automotive industry and its components expand outside of Detroit.
If Uber has proven anything over the last five years, it's that the automotive industry is evolving quickly and massive revenue streams are going to be up for grabs as the way we travel and use transportation changes The race to autonomous vehicles is definitely heating up.
Show me the cash!
Investors of both Cintas (NASDAQ:CTAS) and G&K Services (NASDAQ:GK) cheered when the two agreed to a deal to sign a merger agreement. The deal calls for Cintas to acquire G&K Services for $97.50 per share, all cash. That level was a 19% premium to the price of G&K's shares at the prior day's close of trading. While it's no surprise that G&K's stock price immediately traded up to the premium Cintas agreed to pay per share, shares of Cintas were also up roughly 7% after the announcement.
There are a couple of things for investors to consider here. Cintas is putting its money where its mouth is because it's paying a premium for the company -- a total of $2.2 billion -- including the assumption of debt, and at a fairly lofty 14 times EBITDA multiple. Because of the price tag, investors shouldn't expect this transaction to be immediately accretive to earnings.
This is a story that investors believe will pay off as a result of the synergies created from the combined companies over the next few years, rather than being instantly accretive. Cintas believes it will realize $130 million to $140 million in synergies and cost savings annually by the fourth year. At the end of the day, the industry's largest player just got bigger, and if management can squeeze synergies and improve its scale, it could work out in favor of investors over the long term.
That escalated quickly
Investors of Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE:BKS) took another hit Wednesday when the company issued a press release the prior evening announcing the departure of CEO Ronald Boire after less than a year of running the company. That quickly sent Barnes & Noble's share price down more than 11% by midday, and gave investors one more reason to doubt a potential turnaround story. Heck, even the press release had a bit of an edge to it.
According to a snippet from Barnes & Noble's press release:
The Board of Directors determined that Mr. Boire was not a good fit for the organization and that it was in the best interests of all parties for him to leave the Company. The Company also said that its Executive Chairman, Leonard Riggio, who was scheduled to retire at the close of the Company's Annual Meeting on September 14, will postpone his retirement until a later date.
It's no secret that times have been tough for the brick-and-mortar retailer, especially as Amazon continues to dominate online retailing. Barnes & Noble isn't without concepts worth trying as it tries its hand with restaurant-styled themes with larger menus, including beer and wine, as well as the coffee shop most of us now find in the stores.
But the truth is, despite being able to reinvigorate the experience at the book store, Barnes & Noble doesn't have a clear path for a turnaround in the business. Also, there are easily more intriguing investments within the market today than Barnes & Noble -- and a new CEO hunt sure isn't helping convince investors to stick around.