Geoffrey’s bound for the woodshed

Does anybody remember Geoffrey the Giraffe?  To be honest, until this morning I’d completely forgotten he existed.  Even reading the articles about how Toys R Us is finished didn’t prompt me to remember.  Only when I started to write this post did I recall.

Here’s the backstory.  In 1948 following service in The War, Charles P. Lazarus descended into the African jungle in search of nothing but the highest quality products he could sell to the people, namely bicycles.  He employed the finest in German explorers (unemployed since May 1945), coolies, and technology.  After getting lost in the bush, soon only Lazarus remained alive.  Soon to expire, he awoke from his pre-death slumber held in the firm embrace of one Geoffrey the Giraffe.

As he was slowly nursed back to health over many months, Geoffrey explained to Lazarus that the real money was in selling toys and baby products to the Boomer generation.  Lazarus agreed to implement Geoffrey’s plan, but only on the condition that Geoffrey ended his self-imposed three-thousand year isolation and rejoin the known world.  And so for near seven decades Toys R Us existed and Geoffrey delighted millions with his special powers.

Well, that was fun, but now the ride is over.  Geoffrey is said to have tried to make a break for it.  He’d procured tickets on a tramp steamer bound from Brooklyn to Kinshasa.  But assassins in the pay of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts Bain Capital (who own Toys R Us) got him on the quay at 3am as he was trying to sneak up the mooring line.  Rather than rejoin the jungle to wait for three-thousand years again, Geoffrey’s getting taken to the woodshed.  At KKR Bain’s exclusive Adirondack retreat.  But KKR Bain’s Masters are merciful, the deed will be done quickly.

It’ll be hard for future generations to understand just how central Toys R Us once was to the American experience.  Now, gone.  Any coincidence that it’s end came as a result of a private equity firm mismanaging it and filling it up with endless debt?  I think not.  I’m sure KKR made billions in profit off Toys R Us’ demise.  But it still doesn’t change the long term dive in retail.

Six months ago after a personal experience with bad stores, I predicted the doom of retail.  I thought this would take decades.  But perhaps the rout has already begun.

Maybe in less than a decade there will only be the following physical stores left:

– Ultra Cheap Retail (Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, etc)

– Cheap Retail (Walmart, Target, etc)

– Niche Rich (Starbucks, Small Bookstore, Craft (of any variety), etc)

– Groceries

– Restaurants

– Pharmacies

– Home Improvement

And in the end, maybe it won’t be that bad after all.  I took a look at the top 50 retailers in America.  Of all those 50, here are the ones that don’t fit into my list:

Best Buy







JC Penny


L Brands

Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Toys R Us was #62.  So that’s roughly 15-20% of all stores are doomed.  That’s a lot, but it’s not like it’s 50%.  So I guess the rout / realignment has already started.


Poor Geoffrey, RIP.

you will be made to pay

The other day I strolled into my neighborhood shopette to purchase a pack of alcoholic beverages known locally as beer. I struggled to determine which style I desired to buy as I’m generally indecisive and as there are so many delicious options. But then I was shocked as I felt a sharp pain at the base of my back and I quickly found myself being led down the beer case aisle with a firm hand on my shoulder.

“Just right this way, Sir; just right this way,” the man said. I thought about struggling but it seemed as if the man could read my mind for as I made to break free the pain in my back increased and I realized I had a knife to my spine. I managed to glance over my shoulder and I was aghast to find my captor was no less than The Monopoly Man.

Our journey concluded in front of the ubiquitous Bud and Miller case. For of course they’re usually side by side. “Pick one,” The Monopoly Man whispered seductively in my ear. Sweating, and scared out of my mind, I meekly uttered, “Which one?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he firmly responded. Five minutes later I departed the shopette with a six pack of Bud or Miller. I can’t remember which as I was too concerned with the fact that I’d soiled myself shortly after The Monopoly Man returned the switchblade to his pocket and disappeared behind a Grolsch display case, never to be seen again.


Why yes, yes it is.

$104B is a lot of money for a beer company. $104B is a lot of money for anything. $104B could buy you ten nuclear aircraft carriers or 20 years of budget for America’s PEPFAR anti-AIDS program. But AB InBev is using it to absorb SABMiller. Why? Straight cash, folks.

Should you care? After all, nobody is made to buy beer. Alcohol is scientifically a poison to your body. It’s why you get drunk. So technically speaking, I don’t suppose there’s any reasonable difference between deliberately ingesting alcohol, and deliberately ingesting drain cleaner. It’s just that one is more poisonous than the other. Except that beer is tastier, so there’s that.

But this purchase is the latest in a trend. Depending on where you live, there are only about three mobile phone providers you get to choose from. The health insurance companies are merging now too. Experts predict that eventually instead of having five health insurance companies that there’ll be only three soon enough.

The health insurance companies claim they need these mergers to keep costs down. So good news, your health insurance cost will go down over the next five years. Guaranteed. They’ll swear to it.

The problem with capitalism is you need genuine competition for it to work. Otherwise you get something other than capitalism.

AB InBev has shelled out $24.3M in political campaign contributions equally split between the parties, as well as $102.3M on lobbying the government. SABMiller’s numbers are $2.1M and $21.0M, smaller, but still equally split between the parties. Hmm, why would they give an equal amount of cash to each party?

You certainly shouldn’t really care about AB InBev and SABMiller. Instead, you can just always buy tasty Yuengling.

But I suspect you do care about health insurance. Or the cost of your phone plan, seeing as how you can’t compete in the modern knowledge economy without one. How about the cost of your Internets? Or your power bill?

The same thing is happening to them all. You will be made to pay. The Monopoly Man is sure of it.

The Monopoly Man

“Terribly sorry old chap but you’ll be made to pay lest you force me to slice you open.”

he doesn’t know what to do next

Ordinary average citizen, jai-alai connoisseur, and journeyman Xi Jinping’s got a problem. He’s decided to gamble the future of his little Party cabal on the concept that he can always have it both ways.

1) That he can deliver modern strong economic growth to the masses while also maintaining total economic control in the hands of the cabal

2) That said modern strong economic growth will keep the masses tame so they don’t overthrow the cabal

Even if you believe (2) is possible (I don’t), the real problem is (1) is impossible. Xi’s starting to learn that modern capitalism and total state control don’t mix. And the result is his economy’s tanking, and the dude doesn’t know what to do.

You can’t have an economy where you let a Shanghai taxi driver play the stockmarket one day, and then wake up in the morning and pull levers from Beijing to order the market what to do. It doesn’t work that way. Either the market becomes a chaotic mess or economic growth slows. In today’s case, both are happening.

So today, using his lever, Xi’s decided to let the yuan devalue in an aggressive attempt to kick start exports. He’ll probably have about as much success with that as he did trying to save the stockmarket last month. Meaning he’ll fail and lose even more credibility. Then what? I suspect he doesn’t know. Sooner or later he’s going to run out of people he can arrest.

China’s still growing faster than just about anybody else, and has more cash than most alien empires, but the glory days of the past are gone. What happens next is key not just for China, but for the rest of the world that’s now driven as much by what happens in Beijing as in Washington. And I think we’ll see over the next few months, an equally dominant display of political incompetence from both global capitals.

I’m actually wondering if the whole global economy is about to crash again like 2008. China’s slowing and taking all of Asia with it. Europe is still in perpetual debtor’s prison. America and Britain are only growing very, very slowly. Narendra Modi’s attempts to recharge India have amounted to very little. And on and on.

It might get real ugly this winter as folks stop shelling out cash on vacations and start freezing again. I wonder if the planet has the slack to absorb another big recession? Everybody’s still recovering from 2008. What a mess that’d be.

Eh, that’s quite the depressing thought. Uh, have a nice day please.


“Hmm, now that I actually think about it this way, it really doesn’t make any sense after all. Oh. Hmm.”