Hitting Olive Garden's "Never Ending (Holiday) Pasta Bowl"

December 19, 2018
Dow Jones: 23,676 (+0.35%)
S&P 500: 2,546 (+0.01%)
Nasdaq: 6,784 (+0.45%)
Bitcoin: $3,693 (+5.70%)
10-Year Treasury: 2.811%

White Elephant was meh and your "ugly sweater day" sweater feels judged. Just abide by the Holiday Office Party Survival Guide until you're holiday home free.

Markets rose Wednesday from their lowest point since April -- Even as China's President declared he wants to control "all tasks" of China.

1. Olive Garden was just saved by the pasta

Carbo load your carbo load... Restaurant group Darden has whipped itself up a whole portfolio of kitchens, including The Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze. But Olive Garden's the house special. The chain now makes up half of Darden's total revenues, and its sales surged 3.5% last quarter. Darden shares rose 4% and Nonna's proud (she cried).

Fettuccine for the win... Olive Garden's power quarter was fueled by its "Never Ending Pasta Bowl" promo, which thrived despite a price increase for the unlimited free pasta refill menu item by $1 to $11.99 (the first price increase in 5 years!). They figure the economy's strong enough to have you thinking, "Yes. Treat yo' self to Shrimp Alfredo di Portabello. You deserve it." 

The Takeaway: Pumping out Primavera Tortellini ain't cheap... The 1 diva detail in Darden's earnings report was wages -- it's a cost that's rising because the employment situation is firmly al dente. Chain restaurants are so starving for kitchen workers that they're now hosting "hiring parties." Lifetime breadstick supplies only go so far.

Fun Fact: The OG'S now serving pasta chips, a.k.a. nachos, a beautiful Italian-American twist on the traditional Mexican dish

2. Legal Pot snags a legal drug deal

Even weed companies need to “know a guy”... Canadian pot producer Tilray spiked 16% on word it’s partnering with globo pharmaceutical company Novartis to push its cannabis worldwide. Cultivating pot’s a challenge Tilray is all over. But packaging, labeling, and getting it approved for medical use is another. Novartis is all over that.

2 countries are cool with recreational toking… Tilray and its Canadian brethren aren’t waiting for the generation of pot-hating politicians to die out. So it’s expanding now to the 35 countries with legal medicinal cannabis (Germany’s #1 on the expansion plan). Novartis already has distribution networks and knows the regulators you need to cozy up with.

The Takeaway: Weed's a gateway product... Tilray stock hit $300 after July's IPO. It's fallen from its high, but spikes each time "Big ____" firms partner up with pot. Big Alcohol, Big Soda, then Big Cigarettes. Now Big Pharma. It's hard to judge what a weed company's “worth” when they’re all so small still and the market’s so young.

3. Headspace and Calm battle for mindful domination

Sit down. Do nothing. Stop thinking... Your mind must focus on the percentage of Americans who meditate, which has tripled in the last 5 years. And 90% of the market for apps that guide your mindful game is split between two startups: Headspace and Calm. They hate each other. But the WSJ says they're chill (in a judgement-free way).

Your chakra wants to compare them... We'll oblige it. Headspace is 2 years older than Calm (2010 vs. 2012) and has 6-times the employees (230 vs. 40). Headspace's founder spent 10 years training at a Buddhist monastery, while Calm's came from advertising. But Calm won Apple's "2017 App of the Year," and that made a serious difference:

  • Headspace's 2018 Revenues: $34M
  • Calm's 2018 Revenues: $51M

The Takeaway: Following the big checks wasn't mindful... Headspace focused on major corporate contracts -- Clients like LinkedIn and the NBA want Headspace to make workers aggressively productive by mind chilling before work. While Calm just focused on consumer-first products -- its top track is a recording of Matthew McConaughey whispering you to sleep. It worked.

4. AT&T announces 5G is here now. Like, now now.**

The “First to 5G” victory tour just started… and will continue forever in AT&T commercials. The Dallas-based telecom and media mountain made a surprise reveal Tuesday that its 5G (the jacked baby of 4G wireless cell service) is already here in parts of 12 US cities (read them here. Congrats, Louisville).

**But you can’t use it yet… The test 5G service is available for VIPs only so that AT&T can see how the network performs before the masses connect. Here’s the rollout plan:

  • Starting Friday: Select users can try 5G by connecting their phone to a Netgear Hotspot device
  • In a few months: The Hotspot device goes on sale for a cool $499 and requires a monthly $70 plan add on
  • By the summer: AT&T will offer the first 5G-ready smartphone, a Samsung (Apple’s won’t be ready until 2020).  

The Takeaway: What's your 5G strategy?... 5G will replace “the cloud” as the buzzword of the next 5 years that everyone’s business model is built around. Connected cars, connected devices, and connected pets will all rely on 5G. The telecom-glomerates behind the service are banking on it.

What else we're 'Snacking

  • Test: Elon Musk's Boring Company tunnel for self-driving cars opened last night
  • Venture: Rothy's snags $35M from Goldman to dominate ballet flats
  • Crypto: Coinbase now lets you convert one cryptocurrency into another
  • Express: FedEx quickly cuts its 2019 projections because of "global uncertainty"
  • Slipping: Oil prices just hit a 16 month low

Today's MarketSnacks Daily Podcast

  • Steelcase: The company making "athleisurewear of office furniture" has finally figured out Millennials...
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Saturn's losing its legendary rings (it'll take 3M years, but they're falling apart)

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  • The Federal Reserve Bank's big interest rate announcement
  • Earnings from General Mills and Winnebago

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