Dear Mr. Berko: Blue Apron is $1.01 a share. Do you think there's any life left in the company that might warrant a purchase as a speculation? I may buy 25,000 shares if you think I could net a profit in the next six months or so. The commission at Charles Schwab would only be $9.90. My longtime stockbroker thinks I'm nuts. But the more important question is below.
Recently, my family business had to borrow a large sum of money to purchase several pieces of industrial machinery, and my Merrill Lynch broker of 14 years seemed to resent the fact that I didn't consult with him prior to my purchase. It seems that Merrill brokers are being pushed by Bank of America, which owns Merrill Lynch, to refer corporate business to it. Now my broker is encouraging me to turn the company bank accounts, including payroll activities (33 employees), over to Bank of America, even though everything is currently handled very well by our accounting firm of 11 years. I trust my broker. His investment advice is average, but I know he'd never recommend anything unless it would be to my advantage. That seems to suggest that moving our corporate accounts to Bank of America would be to our advantage. And the costs would be nearly 20 percent lower. What do you think?
— CP, Joliet, Ill.
Dear CP: Blue Apron (APRN, now 90 cents) is a high-class meals-on-wheels enterprise that came public in June 2017 at $10 a share. Within a few minutes, it had zoomed to $11. This funky froufrou company appeals to millennials, who collectively become intensely passionate about new ideas for a relatively short time. Blue Apron is an e-commerce marketplace that delivers original recipes with pre-portioned fresh ingredients for home cooking to complement the lifestyles of pseudo-intellectual New Age yuppies and yumpies. With flourish, everything, including a classy wine selection, is delivered to your door by a limousine or a VW.
However, business has been skidding. Revenues are down. Annual customer count is off by 27 percent. Employees are being furloughed. And APRN is now selling its food kits on the Walmart-owned e-commerce site Jet.com. My crystal ball suggests there's a 16.2 percent degree of probability that a 25,000-share purchase could pocket a half-point profit by June. Meal kit companies have been struggling to keep customers, many of whom are reluctant to pay for regular delivery subscriptions. Rival HelloFresh (HLFFF-$6.85), a clone that came public at $12 in November 2017, said losses are rising, even though its increasing U.S. customer count exceeds 1 million. Meanwhile, copycat startups have popped up targeting an array of diets, such as glucose-free, vegan, organic Chinese, low-carb, etc.
Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, earned $16 million in 2015, $20 million in 2016 and $23 million in 2017 but recently announced that he is cutting broker pay to trim costs. And Brian is telling his 17,000 troops at Merrill Lynch that they must begin selling Bank of America products to claw back their pay cuts.
Trust your broker's recommendations about stocks, but I'd not trust his cross-selling recommendations. Don't allow Bank of America to take over your corporate credit cards, insurance, checking accounts, payroll activities, 1099 filings, W-2 generation, etc. I didn't know that Bank of America does payroll work. I suspect that it could do it for less than your accounting firm charges, but I can offer you an absolutely guaranteed maybe that if you were to move your corporate business activities to Bank of America, you would have many months of agony, and all manner of things that couldn't possibly have gone wrong in the past would go wrong daily. Stay with your accounting firm.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at email@example.com.