5 Jolly Ways to Prepare Your Business for the Holidays

As yet another year races to its end, 2016 will go down as a time of eye-opening changes – and it isn’t quite over yet. For many businesses, their busiest time of year will kick off with a vengeance this week as the holiday season begins. If you find yourself wondering how to thank your customers for their support, or maximize holiday sales, you’re not the only one.

But is it possible to prepare your business for the holidays without tearing your hair out? Might you actually be able to enjoy the holiday season, at the same time as coping with demand? Well, you can certainly try! Check out these five jolly ways to prepare your business for the holidays.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan
What’s so jolly about planning? If my first point just gave you whiplash, then remember that few events in life are simply spontaneously fun; least of all in business. While you can sit back unprepared for the onslaught of traffic and peak in sales — the holiday season will be much jollier for everyone involved if you plan ahead. Trust me, there’s nothing happy or cheery about running out of inventory, keeping customers waiting, or having to reboot your servers.

Dan Sevigny of Christmas Tree Brooklyn confirms: “The most important thing business owners can do to prepare for the Holiday rush is to plan. The second most important thing to do is plan some more. Seriously, you can’t be well enough prepared.” So, go through your past year’s sales and analytics data, figure out what you’ll need for the coming year and organize the fun in advance!

2. Create Your Holiday Offers
For many companies, the holiday season is their busiest time of the year. And it’s not always jolly when you’re rushing around, stretched to your limits. So, make sure that you create your holiday offers in advance. This becomes much easier once you’ve studied the data from your performance the year before and identified patterns. For example, the nonprofit sector alone receives over a third of their annual donations in the last quarter.

Remember that people are ready and willing to buy, so make sure that you have an offer tailored to meet their needs. If you work in a rapidly changing market, last year’s popular products won’t be enough — you’ll need to anticipate customer trends this year. If you provide a service, like marketing, think about creating a valuable asset such as an eBook, whitepaper, online courses or a free e-calendar. These are relatively easy to put together and a great way of giving extra holiday value to your customers.

3. Decorate!
Getting the holiday season right might be about careful planning and creating the right offers, but don’t forget about the holiday spirit! Customers and employees alike are in the mood for a little celebration after a hard year at work. Make the holidays more fun for everyone and build anticipation by decorating your office, store or fleet.

If you work in an online environment, that doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from the party. Whether you sell bed linen or remote control cars, you can add a little snow to your website, pictures of presents and lights. The holidays lift people’s spirits and customers will buy more from you if they feel happy. So, investing in a little design can pay dividends when it comes to conversions.

4. Keep an Open Mind
Companies should be mindful that their employees celebrate the holidays differently, and their customers do as well. Instead of focusing on just one segment, keep an open mind and make sure that your campaigns are inclusive or targeted. Many companies hire employees all around the globe. The holiday season can be a great way of discovering how different cultures celebrate the holidays (and when).

Be culturally sensitive (and a better boss) by giving flexi-time to employees who may not celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas day. Not only will you allow them to use these days when their country or religion has a national holiday, but you’ll ensure that your business is up-and-running around the clock.

5. Give Back
According to Amir Eyal of Mylestone Plans, giving back can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the holiday season. It’s good for business as well as the community, and for bolstering employee morale. He advises to “ask your staff to choose a charity they would like to support and make a donation on their behalf in addition to holiday bonuses.” Remembering that the holiday spirit is not only commercial and honoring those who have less than us is a great way of promoting well-being.

However you decide to prepare your business for the holiday season, make sure you do it with one eye on the past and the other on the future. Know what happened last year and what the trends are likely to be this time around. Be prepared so that no one gets overworked or bent out of shape, and your employees and customers alike have a jolly holiday season.

Like this article? Get breakthrough marketing tips in your inbox every week!

6 Innovations that Have Changed E-commerce in 2016

U.S. e-commerce sales reportedly totaled $341 billion in 2015 – a 14.6% increase on the $298 billion spent in 2014.

Sound impressive?

You might be surprised to learn that the $341 billion spent online accounted for just 10.5% of retail sales in the U.S. last year.

There’s no doubt that e-commerce spending is growing, but if most of our purchases still take place offline, what can e-commerce retailers do to improve the experience of shopping online and in turn increase sales?

Here are 6 innovations that have changed, or are set to change, the face of e-commerce in 2016. They might just help.

1. Shopkey

Shopkey makes it easier for Shopify store owners to manage a live chat or instant messaging service from their phone. Currently available to iPhone owners only, the app enables users to get instant access to their entire product catalog using their device’s keyboard, and share links (to products) and images (of products) via their messaging service of choice (similar to how you would add an emoji to a message).

Why it’s changed e-commerce

It helps Shopify store owners engage and sell to consumers anytime, and more importantly, from anywhere. This is especially valuable when you consider that sites that use live chat have been shown to generate between 4-8x more leads than those that don’t.

2. Beacon Technology

Beacon technology has been around since 2013, but it’s only been in the last year or so that it’s really started catching on.

Its applications stretch well beyond e-commerce, but for online stores that also have physical locations, the potential it offers is huge.

For beacon technology to work, a customer must have downloaded your app – this allows the technology to monitor each user’s location (internet connection permitting). From there, whenever the user in question is within a certain distance from a branch of your store, it fires them a message designed to entice them in (usually an offer, but it doesn’t have to be).

Why it’s changed e-commerce

It’s helped align the experience of buying from an e-commerce store with that of visiting a real-life, physical shop. For many customers, it’s one or the other – the customer either prefers to buy from the comfort of their home, or they prefer the hands-on, more immediate experience of shopping in a physical store. It doesn’t have to be that way. Beacon technology removes that barrier and helps consumers diversify the way they shop, and brands, the way they market to them.

Mobile couponing app company RetailMeNot uses beacon technology to direct offers at users while they’re out shopping. For example, its research showed that better use of technology designed to integrate the in-store and mobile shopping experiences helped UK retailers to unlock an extra £200m ($244 million dollars) in sales each year and drove more foot traffic.

3. Apple Pay

Entering card details has arguably been one of the biggest barriers to mobile online shopping – it’s a little awkward at best and downright frustrating at worst – but things are changing.

Apple Pay was originally designed to make it easier for consumers to complete in-store purchases, but it’s now available to Shopify store owners (and their customers) too.

The online branch of Apple Pay enables customers to complete a purchase in your store quickly and securely by tapping the Apple Pay button, and scanning their fingerprint. That’s amazing technology that Shopify store owners should be getting excited about. Get it activated by clicking here.

Why it’s changed e-commerce

The quicker and easier it is for customers to make a purchase, the greater the odds that they will complete it. That means more sales, higher conversion rates, and increased revenue for e-commerce store owners.

It’s too early to see precisely how Apple Pay will affect online transactions but when V3 spoke to Mark Curran – Lloyds’ payments and technical services director – about Apple Pay, he said it will have a “significant impact.”

“Apple Pay brings something new to the market, no question. It will have a significant impact, and you don’t do anything with Apple in a guarded way. You just have to look at their reach, at the type of customers they’ve got, the number of customers. And the service is pretty good, so I think it will take off.”

4. Shopify Capital

Shopify Capital is a money lending service that offers Shopify store owners cash they can use to help them grow their companies.

It’s important to note that these aren’t loans, but cash advances. There are no banks involved and no monthly repayments. Instead, borrowers pay a small percentage of each sale to Shopify until the loan is repaid.

Why it’s changed e-commerce

It lets small businesses access much-needed cash with none of the drawbacks of a traditional loan. There’s no paperwork to complete, no interest to pay, and perhaps most critically – no minimum payment. If a store owner doesn’t make sales, they don’t make repayments. That’s a big deal for businesses that can’t afford to take on the risks associated with a bank loan. Between launch and June 30th, Shopify stated it had already “advanced over $5 million to participating merchants.”

5. Buyable Pins

Pinterest’s Buyable Pins let shoppers buy products without ever leaving the platform. They look almost identical to regular pins, save for a small, blue “Buy It” button that sits next to the famed “Pin It” button.

Users can save products they’re interested in to a board (just like they’ve always done) or buy the item right away, directly through Pinterest. They simply click the Buy It button and complete their purchase using Apple Pay or with a credit card – all from within the Pinterest app.

Initially, Buyable Pins were only available to a select few big brands. Now, retailers who use one of five e-commerce platforms, including Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce, can get instant access to the feature. Everyone else will have to add themselves to the waiting list.

Why they’ve changed e-commerce

They fuse social media and e-commerce in a manner that’s not only great for businesses, but great for the consumer, too.

Take Facebook Ads. They’re awesome for businesses, but they can be highly intrusive to consumers. Buyable Pins are different. They’re a natural enhancement for the platform that actually improve user experience by making it easier for consumers to do what they want to do anyway: buy the items they see on Pinterest. This is even more exciting for retailers when you consider the fact that around 84% of Buyable Pins’ customers are new to the store in question.

6. Chatbot on Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is the second-most popular messaging app worldwide (if you didn’t guess, WhatsApp is first). In April of this year, Shopify launched Messenger for Shopify, a Facebook Messenger-integrated plugin that lets Shopify store owners chat with their customers on their terms, and their turf.

In addition to this, the plugin features an AI-powered bot that is capable of automating a whole host of tasks, from running ads on Facebook or Instagram, to distributing email campaigns. It even allows customers to shop, ask questions, or receive updates about their purchase, all without ever leaving Facebook Messenger.

Take clothing store Spring. It uses Facebook Messenger to assist customers with an automated personal shopper service that asks questions to narrow down the type of product the customer is interested in buying, and provides recommendations.

Why it’s changed e-commerce

There’s a reason there are 50 million small business brand pages on Facebook – because we know that if we want to be effective at reaching, selling to, and building relationships with our customers, we have to be where they are.

This is a natural extension to using social media for business. It means customers don’t have to visit our sites to interact with us or even make a purchase; the entire process can take place without the customer ever needing to leave their comfort zone – the familiarity of a chat app like Facebook Messenger.

The growth of e-commerce is fantastic for customers, who benefit from the convenience of being able to shop from anywhere at anytime – and even better for entrepreneurs, who can launch an online business for minimal capital and risk.

Numerous innovations are helping to drive this growth and ease the process of setting up shop and selling online, and in turn, building a successful e-commerce business. If you’re thinking about launching an e-commerce business yourself, there has never been a better time than now.

What other innovations do you know of that have changed e-commerce this year? Let me know in the comments below.

American Airlines’ Latest Big Problem Is Making Many People Very Uncomfortable

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the odd twitch.

Or maybe it’s been certain unexplained red patches here and there.

There might have been quite a bit of scratching too.

Occasionally, I imagine, this might have even led to spillage or, at least, some even more peculiar frowns than usual.

You may not have already guessed that I’m talking about American Airlines’ flight attendants and their new uniforms.

It seems, you see, that there are a few problems.

“We have received over 1,600 Flight Attendant reports of suspected uniform reactions that include headaches, rashes, hives, burning skin and eye irritation, itching, and respiratory problems–to name a few, said a statement from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Yes, it might not merely be the extreme discomfort of flying in narrow planes and dealing with obnoxious customers that’s causing your American flight attendants to have additionally troubled moods.

1,600 does seem a lot of complaints about uniforms that were only rolled out in September. Indeed, the union is asking for a total recall.

But it’s not as if the airline just foisted these new wool-blend uniforms on its staff, is it? These have been in development for three years. This the first redesign in 30 years and 70,000 staff members were issued with these new garments.

An American Airlines spokeswoman told me that the uniforms were tested twice before launch and a third time when complaints began to roll in. Each time, she said, the tests proved the uniforms were safe.

So what of the itching, scratching and headaches? Is this now just the natural result of being a flight attendant?

“We’re taking this issue seriously,” said the spokeswoman.

She said that the airline had set up a special call center for complaints and had not seen the numbers claimed by the union. However, it’s still going ahead to test the uniforms yet again, in a joint effort with the union.

“The flight attendants union is the only one that’s come forward with this issue,” the spokeswoman told me.

Meanwhile the airline told me that it’s providing alternative garments and even buying replacement garments at its own cost. It’s also allowing some flight attendants to wear their old uniforms on a case-by-case basis.

The union says that its members like the way the uniforms look. It’s just that the itching and scratching is almost as uncomfortable as corporate backbiting.

Whatever the politics that might be going on here — and American currently has quite a bit of politics going on with its underpaid (in their eyes) pilots — you do wonder how so much testing and development could still lead to this apparent level of discomfort.

So if you see your friendly American Airlines flight attendant behaving in a slightly (more) uncomfortable way than usual, please cut them some slack.

Or, perhaps, lend them a pair of slacks.

3 Steps One Entrepreneur Took to 10x Her Startup Growth

The dot-com boom of the 90s attracted many entrepreneurs into believing that almost anybody had a shot of making it big. For a time, it seemed all you needed was an alluring IPO and nerves of steel to raise millions. That, of course, would not last. However, the companies that made it out of the bubble invariably had one thing in common: they were helmed by people with impeccable business sense. The best of these leaders have the foresight to plan for success.

I recently sat down with multi-millionaire business-woman Lori R. Taylor, founder of TruDog, to discuss what it takes to go the extra mile and build a winning business.

Here are the 3 things that Lori did, that you must do if you want to experience 10x growth with your startup.

1. Seriously Plan for Success

When Taylor launched her agency, Rev Media Marketing, she was working for the agency RR Donnelley for 18 years prior to that and finally decided to take the dive in starting her own business.

It didn’t take her much time to realize that the business was running her, she was not running the business. Her clients were completely reliant on her. Then she realized that she needed to make her company self sustaining, whether she was there or not.

Kind of like one of the bottlenecks I experienced with my own personal business, she was the first point of contact. Lori realized that if she had a chance to do things over, she would have built out a few more layers of infrastructure to avoid this problem.

When Lori was closing deals herself, she thought she could hand over her business to her team, but her clients just wanted to talk to her.

That’s when Taylor started coming up with contingency plans.

She had a bunch of plans for if things didn’t go well. She had a lot of plan B’s for how she would pivot and what she would do. But the one thing that she didn’t plan for was a contingency plan on what happens if the business just started booming.

Everyone wanted what Lori had, and that is exactly what happened. In fact, things got so crazy that Lori ran out of inventory 17 times in 2015.

Although it was a good problem to have, if Lori would have planned for success from the get-go, she could have capitalized much more.

2. Stay Focused on Your Mission

If you ask an entrepreneur what the most difficult aspect of launching a startup is, chances are, they will say, that it is staying focused. The irony is that many take up entrepreneurship to escape the 9-5 corporate grind, but entrepreneurship is in itself more than what you would encounter at a full-time job.

What’s more, today’s digital environment, with its smartphones, tablets and social networks, ensures that we have even less mental bandwidth to work with than ever. Our time is everything.

Lori’s a lot like me. She talked about how she struggled, chased squirrels, got excited over shiny pennies and didn’t stay focused on her mission, passion or purpose. And I thought to myself, wow that sounds just like me!

Lori’s secret for staying focused is to complete the most mentally demanding tasks — those that require creativity or concentration — first. Once that is done and only when that is done, she will move on to the easier tasks. In other words, eat that frog. This frees up invaluable mental bandwidth. Imagine the compounding benefits of doing this every day.

3. Be Willing to Put in Sweat Equity

When you contribute to a startup with your sweat, blood and tears, you are building sweat equity. At times, it can be difficult to gauge or identify sweat equity, so let’s take a look.

There are two components:

  • Commitment: how determined are you to help build the startup? Are you in it for the long haul?
  • Contribution: what do you provide to the startup that no one else does?

The problem is that too many people quit in the middle. It’s super fun in the beginning, right? So fun. Everyone is excited. You’ve got your presentation, you’ve got your stats, you’re going to investors. They want you to be right.

This could be the one, this could be their big investment. And everyone’s excited. But you get there. You get that first big jump, and it starts happening. And then, you run out of inventory, things start to get hard like in Lori’s case.

Lori knows that people are toiling, but she is also the type of person who is willing to go the distance because she knows exactly what it feels like to be in the end zone and just how hard it is to get there. But regardless, she is willing to do whatever it takes to get there, as long as it aligns with her mission and mantra and that she always does what she says. She tries to show people that she cares.

If you want to have your startup experience 10x growth, show investors, customers, business partners, yourself and everyone in between that you care by building sweat equity and going the distance with every business venture that you take on. You don’t want to get to the end zone to realize that you forgot a crucial part of your success, like bringing the football with you down the field.

Nestle Claims A Scientific Breakthrough And Chocolate Will Never Be The Same Again

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

This is more important than most news you’ve read in, oh, the last decade.

This concerns an essential foodstuff, one that — for some people, at least — can represent the difference between a meal uplifted and a day destroyed.

It can mean the difference between a meeting going quickly and your mouth and stomach making like Occupy Wall Street.

We’re talking about chocolate.

This substance has brought me more spiritual joy than 100 yoga classes or 40,000 TED Talks.

It’s like a revenge on life’s nasty ways. That’s why, in my view, it should always be served cold, straight from the fridge.

And now Nestle is making that prospect even more glorious, uplifting and even pleasing to the do-gooders who got soda banned in Berkeley.

You see, Nestle has just announced that it’s found a way for perfect-tasting chocolate to have 40 percent less sugar.

Forget President-elect Trump’s economic plan. This could make world productivity soar beyond imagination.

Nestle’s words hold more hope for me than a whole bar of stunning Freia Kvikk Lunsj. (It’s Norwegian. You have to try it. Within it, there is much salvation.)

“Using only natural ingredients, researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently,” said Nestle. “So even when much less is used in chocolate, your tongue perceives an almost identical sweetness to before.”

I don’t know about you, but it’s not so easy to fool my tongue. My tongue is going to be wary of the con it’s about to enjoy.

Still, if it’s truly possible that wonderful chocolate can have 40 percent less sugar (Nestle says it’s patenting its findings), then please imagine how much your life might change for the better.

I have only two fears with this.

One, it’s going to be like all those sugar-free promises that end up embittering you because true taste never materializes.

And two, will it make me eat 40 percent more chocolate?

How Delphi, Mobileye Are Fast-Tracking Driverless Car Tech

Everyone wants to know when fully self-driving cars will be ready for the road. The companies developing the technology usually give a timeline of several years to decades away.

Automotive parts manufacturer Delphi and Mobileye are no different, and during a media roundtable this week in San Francisco, Delphi’s VP of services, Glen DeVos, envisioned a long-term timeframe for the widespread use of the technology. He expects that fully autonomous driving will first be deployed on commercial vehicles since businesses will be able to save on the expense of drivers and the downtime they require.

However, at the same time, Delphi is partnering with Mobileye, the dominant automotive camera supplier, to fast-track self-driving technology production—ideally by 2019—via a system the partners call Centralized Sensing Localization and Planning (CSLP).

CSLP uses an array of sensors to allow a vehicle to know its location within 10 centimeters, even without GPS connectivity. This helps a car navigate complex intersections even when there are no lane markings. It also identifies vehicles by their basic shape, senses whether another car is stationary or parked, and has what Delphi calls “semantic understanding” to predict the path of other vehicles so that a self-driving car can “behave more human-like in its driving behavior and determine the best path forward.”

Map Lite vs. Map Heavy

A crucial aspect of the CSLP system is circumventing what Delphi and Mobileye call the “map-heavy” approach used by companies like Google and many auto makers. It allows a self-driving vehicle to not only know its location, but also its surroundings in order to achieve full autonomy. Instead, Delphi and Mobileye’s CSLP system will employ a “map-lite” approach by leveraging a technology Mobileye introduced at CES 2016 called Road Experience Management (REM).

Autonomous vehicles that heavily rely on detailed maps require robust data connection to constantly feed accurate mapping data to the car. But the REM system uploads data in small bursts that can be easily handled by the 4G LTE connectivity already found in many vehicles.

Another benefit of REM technology is it can be “seamlessly integrated with existing vehicle platforms,” DeVos mentioned during the media roundtable. But perhaps the primary advantage of the REM technology is that it will essentially take real-time pictures of roads.

Mapping software can be out of date due to changes to the streets made after the maps were created or temporary conditions such as road construction. The CSLP system will not only capture and take into account permanent infrastructure ranging from intersections to road signs, but will also record construction and other short-term changes to the roadway. And this data can be crowdsourced among millions of cars equipped with the system.

I had chance to see the CSLP system in action on the streets of Mountain View, California, near Delphi’s Silicon Valley Labs, where it’s being tested in addition to Pittsburgh and Singapore. And I couldn’t help compare the drive to one I took just over a year ago in the same location in one of Google’s autonomous Lexus RX 350s.

But unlike Google vehicles, one of which I spotted on the street during our drive, there are no noticeable sensors on the Delphi Audi, unless you look very closely. Compared to a self-driving Google Lexus, the Delphi Audi handled situations such as lane closures and stopped vehicles in adjacent lanes without hesitation, although the Delphi test driver did have to take over the controls twice: When we needed to speed up to make a right turn ahead of a city bus, and after we made the turn and got stuck behind a garbage truck.

Regardless, I was very impressed with the system, and was surprised to find out that it was operating without the benefit of Mobileye’s REM technology. This means it will only get better, and that self-driving cars could be available to the public much sooner than we think.

3 Stocks That More Than Doubled in 2016

It’s always interesting to look at stocks that have risen sharply, not least because analyzing the reasons might help in identifying future portfolio candidates. Let’s look at three very different stocks that doubled in 2016 and discuss how best to find similar investments in 2017.

Continue Reading Below

NAV data source:YCharts.

Why they doubled

It takes a lot of upside surprise to make a stock double, and all three of these stocks experienced significant and largely unexpected events in 2016. The stocks come with three different investment themes:

  • The turnaround story:Navistar International Corporation (NYSE: NAV)
  • The deep-value cyclical play:Joy Global Inc. (NYSE: JOY)
  • The fast-growing highflier:NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ: NVDA)

Continue Reading Below

The interesting thing about these three is that two of them, Navistar and Joy Global, have seen their end-market conditions deteriorate as the year has progressed. In other words, a stock doesn’t need to be in a high-growth industry to skyrocket.

On the contrary, Navistar and Joy Global both faced significant challenges in 2016. For Navistar, U.S. truck sales and production have been weak in 2016, and for Joy Global, despite a recent bounce, coal production remains close to historically low levels.

U.S. coal production data source:YCharts.

Navistar’s turnaround

Navistar has endured a turbulent few years. Following the failure of its exhaust gas recirculation engine technology — an attempt to differentiate itself from key competitors Paccar, Volvo, and Daimlerand to comply with 2010 Environmental Protection Agency standards — the truck maker lost market share, faced shareholder lawsuits, and grappled with existential questions concerning its future.

One way to check liquidity trends in a company is to monitor the movement in its current ratio, defined as current assets divided by current liabilities. To that end, Navistar has not been trending in the right direction in recent years:

NAV current ratio (quarterly) data source:YCharts.

So what went right in 2016?

Well, despite a worsening of Navistar’s end markets, management has:

  • Steadied the ship with regard to market share. In fact, market share of new orders is up for the past three quarters.
  • Achieved significant structural cost reductions — $145 million in the first three quarters, against revenue of around $6 billion.
  • Announced an alliance with Volkswagen that involves an equity investment and “strategic technology and supply collaboration and a procurement joint venture,” which is expected to result in $200 million in annual run-rate synergies for Navistar by the fifth year.

The result is that investors are feeling a lot more confident about Navistar’s future, and that’s enough to take the stock higher. The investing lesson may well be not to give up on companies with good market share — Navistar is believed to still have more than 10% of the Class 8 (heavy-duty) market in the U.S. — and look for well-established companies with possible turnaround prospects.

Joy Global’s global joy

That conclusion equally applies to Joy Global. Trucking and, in Joy Global’s case, mining are industries experiencing cyclical weakness, but there’s no reason to believe that they’re structurally challenged — aside from coal. Transportation companies still need to use trucks, and demand for mining commodities will still exist.

INVESTING IN JOY GLOBAL AND NAVISTAR WOULD HAVE MADE YOU A LOT OF MONEY THIS YEAR. IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

That said, Joy Global’s end markets continue to be very weak. A look at its recent third quarter sees original equipment orders declining 46% year over year, while service bookings — an area that management planned to develop to counter cyclical weakness in equipment revenue — declined 12%.

No matter: The recent improvement in oil prices and stabilization in coal encouraged investors to believe the end of the bottom is in sight for commodity-based capital spending. Joy Global and Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) both enjoyed strong performance, even before Komatsu decided to step in and take over Joy Global.

JOY data source:YCharts.

Komatsu’s decision is, again, a demonstration of the attractiveness of a strategic asset to foreign investors. In this case, it’s about adding Komatsu’s surface-mining machinery to Joy Global’s underground machinery, partly to compete with Caterpillar.

NVIDIA’s growth story

This stock illustrates a more easily recognizable growth story. The company is best known for its gaming graphics processing units, which still contribute more than 60% of its total revenue.

DATA SOURCE: NVIDIA CORPORATION PRESENTATIONS. CHART BY AUTHOR. DATA IN MILLIONS OF U.S. DOLLARS.

However, a quick look at growth rate by market shows that auto- and data center-based revenue are growing more than gaming. NVIDIA is set to be a leading player in the fast-growing auto-infotainment market, while graphics acceleration in the data center is also a key growth area for NVIDIA.

DATA SOURCE: NVIDIA CORPORATION PRESENTATIONS. CHART BY AUTHOR

NVIDIA is achieving continued success in gaming — not least with its win on the Nintendo Switch — and managing to expand its total addressable market in autos and data centers, while achieving estimate-busting earnings quarter after quarter.

Lessons learned

All told,Joy Global and Navistardemonstrate the benefit of buying quality companies experiencing cyclical weakness on attractive valuations. Meanwhile, NVIDIA represents a classic case of an ongoing growth story continuing to expand its earnings potential. Obviously, not all of these situations will hit home, but if you are looking for some speculative positions in your portfolio, then these are the sort of situations to look outfor.

10 stocks we like better than Joy Global
When investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has tripled the market.*

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the 10 best stocks for investors to buy right now… and Joy Global wasn’t one of them! That’s right — they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

Click here to learn about these picks!

*Stock Advisor returns as of November 7, 2016

Lee Samaha has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Cummins, Nvidia, and Paccar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

3 States That May Legalize Medical Marijuana Next (1 Is a Big Surprise)

Image source: Getty Images.

Continue Reading Below

This could very well go down as the best year for the marijuana industry on record. It’s tough to top 1996, the first year medical marijuana was approved in a state (California), or 2012, when Colorado and Washington simultaneously became the first states to legalize the sale of recreational cannabis to adults aged 21 and up. However, in 2016 the pot industry saw residents in nine states vote on marijuana initiatives, with eight states (sorry Arizona) voting to approve their respective marijuana initiative or amendment.

Cannabis has had a stellar 2016

Following the 2016 elections, eight states (and Washington, D.C.) have recreational marijuana laws on the books, which is double where we began the year, and a whopping 28 states have now legalized medical cannabis. This year, five new states — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas — have legalized the use of medical cannabis to treat certain ailments such as epilepsy, cancer, and glaucoma, to name a few.

This rapid state-level expansion has business booming for the legal marijuana industry. Investment firm Cowen Co. has projected that legal sales could climb from $6 billion today to $50 billion in a decade. That’s great news for state and local governments that are looking for additional sources of revenue — and an incredible opportunity for marijuana businesses.

This expansion is also a big win for medical marijuana patients. Having more than half of all U.S. states legalize medical weed represents a major step forward in potential treatment pathways. Nationally, according to a 2015 CBS News poll, 84% of Americans want to see medical marijuana legalized nationwide.

Continue Reading Below

Yet marijuana remains a schedule 1, and therefore illicit, drug at the federal level, leaving states to pass cannabis laws individually. Furthermore, two dozen U.S. states, some of which are led by conservative lawmakers who oppose the expansion of marijuana, had neither an initiative nor a referendum, which could make it difficult for certain patients to gain access to medical marijuana.

Image source: Getty Images.

Three states that could legalize medical marijuana next

Of the 22 states that haven’t legalized medical cannabis, some may never legalize it. However, the following three states could very well be the next to legalize medical marijuana, and one is quite the shocker.

Oklahoma

Medical cannabis supporters in Oklahoma tried diligently to get State Question 788 on the ballot prior to the November elections, but a battle in the Oklahoma Supreme Court squashed that hope.

On one hand, Oklahomans have collected more 67,700 signatures in favor of putting a medical cannabis measure on the ballot to be voted on by residents. This was nearly 2,000 signatures more than was needed, and opponents didn’t challenge the signatures collected. In short, it’s not a question of whether a medical cannabis initiative will be voted on; it’s just a matter of when.

On the other hand, detailing the title of Question 788 has proven a sticky situation. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, long an ardent opponent of the expansion of cannabis, rewrote the title of the bill in such a way that the question appears to ask whether “marijuana” should be legalized in Oklahoma as opposed to “medical marijuana.” Though readers would discover that medical marijuana is what’s being voted on by reading further, the rewrite of the bill — in particular the first sentence, which does not include the term “medical” — is somewhat misleading, and proponents fear it could be defeated without the original title. Thus Question 788 is headed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide whether the original title language can be used as opposed to Pruitt’s modified title.

Oklahomans may have to wait a while to find out the verdict, but a medical marijuana measure of some sorts is heading to ballots within the next two years, and it seems to have a decent shot of passing.

Image source: Getty Images.

Missouri

Another state with a strong chance of getting a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in 2018 is Missouri. The Show-Me state was already one of the finalists on track to get a medical cannabis initiative on the 2016 ballot, but it wound up falling a few thousand votes short of the signatures needed when Secretary of State Jason Kander invalidated more than 10,000 signatures.

Interestingly, however, Kander came out in support of using the legislative process to legalize medical cannabis shortly after the measure failed to collect enough signatures to get on the 2016 ballot. In a statement from the secretary of state’s office, Kander said:

While supporters of this important proposal can try to put it on the ballot again in two years, I believe it is time for the state legislature to step up. The Missouri General Assembly should pass legislation to allow medical marijuana so Missouri families that could greatly benefit from it don’t have to watch their loved ones continue suffering. If the legislature is not willing to do that, they should at least put the measure on the ballot themselves in 2018 to give Missouri voters the opportunity to decide on the issue.

With Kander in their corner and marijuana advocacy groups now focusing their attention on Missouri, a medical marijuana measure looks to have a good shot at being on the 2018 ballot — and probably passing based on national sentiment toward medical pot.

Image source: Getty Images.

Texas

Remember that shocker I promised? Well, this is it. The Lone Star state of Texas could be in a prime position to legalize medical marijuana within the next two years.

Historically, Republican-led states are a tough sell for medical or recreational cannabis. Speaking generally, Republican lawmakers take a pretty conservative approach to marijuana use, with many avoiding legalization within their respective states. Texas is a longtime Republican stronghold, so it would seem likely that medical cannabis will remain illegal.

However, times could be changing. Earlier this year, Senate Bill 339 surprisingly passed in both the state’s House and Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law. This bill allows patients suffering from a rare form of epilepsy access to cannabidiol, or CBD, the non-psychoactive component of marijuana. Furthermore, at the State Convention of the Republican Party of Texas, Republicans approved part of a platform calling for a law to “allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.” The Texas Department of Public Safety is set to begin granting CBD permits in June 2017, and it’s possible an expansion of medical marijuana’s use could soon follow.

Legalizing medical marijuana in Texas could also generate substantial sales on the order of $2 billion to $3 billion annually. This isn’t to say that Texas is having difficulty meeting its budgetary needs, but the tax revenue generated from medical cannabis would further buoy the state’s budget.

A fairly recent Texas Tegna Poll found 71% support for legalizing medical pot in the state compared to just 19% opposition. The remainder were undecided. This overwhelming support, coupled with a softening legislative stance and some very large dollar figures, could push Texas to legalize medical cannabis by 2018.

A secret billion-dollar stock opportunity
The world’s biggest tech company forgot to show you something, but a few Wall Street analysts and the Fool didn’t miss a beat: There’s a small company that’s powering their brand-new gadgets and the coming revolution in technology. And we think its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early in-the-know investors! To be one of them, just click here.

Sean Williamshas no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen nameTMFUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle@TMFUltraLong.

The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

5 Things You Didn’t Realize Can Tank Your Credit Score

Image source: Getty Images.

Continue Reading Below

Most people think responsible credit use means paying your bills on time and never taking out more than you can afford to pay back, but credit reporting agencies and the businesses they serve don’t quite see it that way. While those basic best practices can certainly help you build and keep a decent credit history, there are a myriad of other factors that go into your credit score, some of which may not work how you think.

1. Using your credit cards too much

Your credit utilization — or the percentage of your total available credit that you’re using across all accounts — makes up 30% of your score. There is a somewhat nebulous sweet spot for perfect utilization, but normal use of your cards could very well push you out of that range. The common wisdom is that using more than 30% percent of your credit limit can actually hurt your score, even if you’ve never missed a payment. This is because creditors may see you as over-leveraged and therefore at greater risk of late payments or defaults. So if you have $15,000 in total available credit and balances that add up to $6,000, then you’re already at 40% utilization — and your score may be taking a hit.

2. Not using your credit cards enough

Keeping your utilization at 0%, however, may not be the answer. Avoiding unnecessary use of credit is financially prudent, but creditors want to know that you not only pay your debts on timebut also use your credit regularly. After all, they make their money on the interest you pay on your purchases, so someone who doesn’t use their credit isn’t very good for business. Besides, research shows that people with a 0% utilization rate are ultimately more likely to default on their debt than those who keep it a bit higher. Credit Karma has found that consumers with the highest credit scores tend to have a utilization ratio between 1% and 10%.

Continue Reading Below

3. Applying for credit

When potential creditors check your reports during the application process, it shows up as an inquiry. These notations stay on your report for two years and provide information about the lender, as well as the date your credit was pulled. Single inquiries can drop your score up to five points, although the decrease usually only lasts a few months. However, several inquiries within a short period of time, say five or more within two years, will multiply the damage to your score. Although you’re just shopping around for the best deal, creditors may think that you’re having a hard time qualifying for borrowed funds, or that you’re in financial trouble and desperate for credit, both of which scream “high-risk.” Keep in mind that you can apply for multiple auto loans or mortgages within a short time frame without seriously damaging your credit score. That’s because lenders recognize your need to shop for the best rates on these loans, so they treat multiple inquiries in these categories as one, so long as they’re made within a few weeks of each other.

Even if you’re approved for the credit you requested, credit reporting agencies don’t look too fondly on fresh debt. Since you have yet to prove yourself with your new account, your score will drop a bit as a signal to creditors that your risk profile has recently increased.

It may not be possible to avoid all inquiries, but you can decrease their occurrence and the harm they cause by researching offers carefully, only applying for credit that you actually need, and spacing your applications out over a few months.

4. Closing accounts

It’s always a good idea to give your financial house periodic cleanings, but this housekeeping shouldn’t include closing credit accounts. Even if you don’t use them, long-standing credit cards and other revolving lines of credit raise the average age of your accounts, which constitutes 15% of your score. They also boost your total available credit, decreasing your utilization. Closing those accounts shortens your credit history and increases your utilization, both of which cause your score to drop.

The only way to minimize the damage here is to not close old accounts at all — except, of course, in cases of fraud or other serious problems.

5. Paying collections and charge-offs

Delinquent accounts without any new activity have less impact on your score over time. If you make a payment, however, the trade line is updated and pushed to the forefront once again. This holds true even if you pay it off completely, because the previous history remains even after the account status is changed to “Paid.”

It’s still a good idea to pay back these debts, but you shouldn’t necessarily expect a score boost for doing so. It may be more helpful to contact the creditor and request a “pay-for-delete” arrangement that will completely remove the negative account from your reports once you send in the agreed-upon amount.

The complicated, clandestine nature of credit reporting creates a number of opportunities for seemingly innocuous activities to hurt your score, even if you think you’re doing everything right. The damage each of these missteps can cause varies, impacting those with shorter credit histories or thinner files more than seasoned credit veterans. Although you may not always be able to avoid them, there are ways to at least minimize the damage these common activities can cause.

The $15,834 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you’re like most Americans, you’re a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known “Social Security secrets” could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $15,834 more… each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we’re all after.Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies..

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

“If Trump Is Elected, I’m Leaving the Country” – Where to Live Abroad

By Rick Kahler via Iris.xyz The recent presidential election was the most contentious and polarizing in modern history. In the past it hasn’t been unusual to hear people say, “If _________ is elected I am leaving the country,” but I’ve rarely seen anyone actually act on that threat. I have a hunch that since this election…Click to read more at ETFtrends.com.

Continue Reading Below