Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News

Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News

by SA Editor Rachael Granby

  • Skype to get new owner. eBay (EBAY) is expected to announce this morning that it has reached a deal to sell its Skype unit to a group of private investors. The investment group likely includes new venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, as well as early Skype investor Index Ventures and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners. The price of the deal is still unknown, but eBay has said previously that it wants around $2B for Skype. Shares +2% premarket (7:00 ET).
  • BoA ready to repay? Bank of America (BAC) is reportedly offering to repay part of its bailout money, and the U.S. is pressuring the bank to pay at least $500M to cancel a potential loss-share deal with the government. Sources said both sets of discussions relate to extra aid Bank of America received to complete its acquisition of Merrill Lynch. If Bank of America repays the additional $20B it was given in January, it will no longer be considered an 'exceptional' aid recipient and therefore won't be subject to the intense scrutiny of Congress and pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. Shares -2.4% premarket (7:00 ET).
  • Disney's marvelous acquisition. Disney (DIS) agreed to acquire Marvel Entertainment (MRVL) in a stock-cash transaction worth around $4B, a 29% premium for Marvel shareholders. Disney will begin to feature Marvel's portfolio of over 5,000 characters in Disney movies, theme park rides, TV shows and merchandise, a move which may help Disney better target the demographic of boys from their preteen years into young adulthood. S&P warned it may downgrade Disney because the relatively expensive acquisition, combined with stock buyback plans and the potential for continued recession-related declines, could lead to "debt leverage remaining above our threshold for an extended period." The deal is a setback for Paramount (VIA), which will be able to complete but not extend a recent distribution deal with Marvel, and for Electronic Arts (ERTS), which some analysts had thought might be acquired by Disney, a deal that no longer seems likely in the short term. (Read Disney's press release)
  • AIG loses Starr case. A federal judge ruled against AIG (AIG) in its efforts to win $4.3B in damages from Starr International, the company run by former AIG chief Hank Greenberg. The judge affirmed a jury verdict that found no breach of trust by Starr for selling AIG stock rather than using its AIG shares to fund an executive retirement program for generations of the insurer's employees. Separately, AIG, Greenberg and former CFO Howard Smith agreed to enter binding arbitration by October 15 to settle various outstanding legal disputes. Shares -6.9% premarket (7:00 ET).
  • Citi sheds credit card portfolios. As part of its effort to shed weak businesses, Citigroup (C) said it sold three credit card portfolios representing $1.3B in managed assets, but didn't disclose the terms of the deal. Though the sale is relatively small, the lack of transparency didn't sit well with critics, who noted the taxpayer-funded bank "said it had sold undisclosed assets to an undisclosed buyer for an undisclosed price, resulting in an undisclosed profit or loss." Sources said the buyer is likely U.S. Bancorp (USB). C -3.6% premarket (7:00 ET).
  • PetroChina buys Canadian oil stake. PetroChina (PTR) moved forward in its quest for overseas expansion, agreeing to pay C$1.9B ($1.7B) to closely-held Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. for a stake in a Canadian oil sands project. PetroChina's deals represent around 20% of China's $17B in spending on overseas energy assets since December, and this is PetroChina's largest North American acquisition to date.
  • Icahn offloads Yahoo shares. Activist investor Carl Icahn disclosed in a regulatory filing that he sold 12.7M shares of Yahoo (YHOO) at the end of August, bringing his stake down to 4.48%. Icahn said he remains 'optimistic' about Yahoo's long-term outlook and the sales were only meant to 'provide a more desired balance' in his portfolios.
  • Sony goes Chrome. Sony (SNE) plans to put Google's (GOOG) Chrome browser on Vaio laptops in the U.S., the first such deal for Chrome since it was announced last year. Google declined to disclose details of the deal, which went into effect this summer, and said it's looking to reach similar arrangements with other computer makers. Without those partnerships, Google's Sony deal may be too small to matter.
  • Apple may opt for more carriers, face SEC probe. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster wrote in a research note that Apple (AAPL) is likely to add new U.S. carriers for its iPhone within a year. Repeated speculation points to Verizon (VZ) as a likely addition, while AT&T (T) faces question about how much it really gained from its role as exclusive carrier. Separately, the Huffington Post reported the SEC is investigating possible insider-trading offenses in shares of Apple, including whether anyone was given enhanced insight into Steve Jobs' health condition or if some investors had advanced notice of iPod sales results. Both Apple and the SEC declined to comment. AAPL -1.3% premarket (7:00 ET).
  • JetBlue, Lufthansa to share codes. JetBlue (JBLU) and Lufthansa announced a code-sharing agreement allowing the airliners to expand their networks through connecting flights. Lufthansa holds a 19% stake in JetBlue, but the relationship has raised some concerns among rivals and this latest move will likely exacerbate those concerns. The deal must be approved by the Department of Transportation.
  • Big Tobacco files free speech suit. Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds (RAI) joined other tobacco makers in suing the FDA, challenging the regulator's new authority over tobacco. The companies say their First Amendment rights to free speech have been violated and the law's provisions "severely restrict the few remaining channels we have to communicate with adult tobacco consumers."
  • Charities scammed by Madoff face clawbacks. Madoff liquidator Irving Picard said he may sue charities that were Madoff clients to reclaim the fake profits they withdrew. By law, Picard must file clawback suits against investors that profited from Madoff's scam, even if they did so unknowingly. Picard, who until now hadn't outlined his strategy for dealing with charities, said charitable organizations aren't exempt from such 'avoidance actions.'
  • Cities are gloomy on shrinking revenues. City revenues fell in FY '09 for the first time in seven years, according to a report by the National League of Cities to be released later today. Weak growth in property taxes and sharp declines in sales taxes, income taxes and state aid contributed to a 0.4% decline in city revenues even as expenses rose 2.5%, creating the worst outlook in the 24 years since surveying began. Nor is relief in sight, as tax revenue is expected to lag any economic recovery.
  • European leaders target bank pay. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to fight excessive pay in financial firms and to toughen regulation of the financial sector. The U.K.'s Gordon Brown echoed those sentiments, saying excessive pay must be reined in and compensation should be based on long-term success rather than short-term speculative gains. The comments come ahead of a G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24-25.
  • Commercial mortgage defaults rising. The commercial mortgage default rate more than doubled in Q2 as compared to the year before, reaching 2.88% of outstanding balances. Commercial mortgage-backed securities [CMBS] account for 22% of the $3.4T in commercial real estate debt, and researchers believe defaults on CMBS could pass 7% by the end of the year.
  • Chicago business activity improves (.pdf). The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index registered at 50 in August, better than the consensus of 48 and up from 43.4 in July. This is the index's highest level since September 2008. New orders were up 4.5 to 52.5, while prices paid jumped 15 points to 50.
  • European joblessness climbs (.pdf). Unemployment in the 16-nation eurozone climbed to a new ten-year high of 9.5% in July even as the economy began to signal a recovery. Across the entire 27-nation European Union, unemployment rose to 9% in July. Spain leads the bloc in joblessness, with nearly one in five workers without a job.

Earnings: Monday After Close

  • Benihana (BNHN): FQ1 EPS of $0.05 misses by $0.05. Revenue of $96M (+2%) vs. $97M. Sees full-year EPS of $0.40-0.45 vs. $0.46, and full-year revenue of $305M-310M vs. $323M. (PR)
  • Culp (CFI): FQ1 EPS of $0.15 beats by $0.03. Revenue of $46M (-23%) vs. $45M. Sees Q2 revenue down 5%. (PR)
  • Sina (SINA): Q2 EPS of $0.29 in-line. Revenue of $90M (-1%) vs. $88M. Sees Q3 revenue of $91M-94M vs. $96M. (PR)

Today's Markets

In Asia, stocks managed to pull back into positive territory after yesterday's selloff. European markets and U.S. futures are slipping.

  • In Asia, Nikkei +0.4% to 10,530. Hang Seng +0.75% to 19,872. Shanghai +0.6% to 2,684. BSE -0.7% to 15,551.
  • In Europe at midday, London -1.3%. Paris -0.9%. Frankfurt -1.6%.
  • Futures: Dow -0.65%. S&P -0.7%. Nasdaq -0.8%. Crude -0.2% to $69.83. Gold -0.4% to $949.70.

Tuesday's Economic Calendar

Seeking Alpha editor Eli Hoffmann contributed to this post.

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