- Comcast Agrees to Buy Time Warner Cable for $45.2 Billion (BBG)
- Italian leadership squabble weighs as shares halt hot run (Reuters)
- Russia says Syria aid draft could open door to military action (Reuters)
- China trust assets rise 46% in 2013 (WSJ), China Trust Assets Surge to $1.8 Trillion Amid Default Risks (BBG)
- Australian Unemployment Jumps to 10-Year High (BBG)
- Seven banks face new forex market-rigging claims in lawsuit (FT)
- Tea Party Scorns Republicans as House Lifts Debt Ceiling (BBG)
- Peso plunge forces Argentine soya hoarding (FT)
- BNP Paribas Net Falls After $1.1 Billion U.S. Legal Charge (BBG)
- Hacking Joins Curriculum as Businesses Seek Cyber Skills (BBG)
- Android’s ‘Open’ System Has Limits (WSJ)
- Blackstone-Fueled Single-Family Home Boom Lifts Chicago (BBG)
- Turkey Dec. Current Account Gap More Than Doubles (BBG)
- Yes, There’s a Pilot Shortage: Salaries Start at $21,000 (BBG)
- Krawcheck Says Women on Wall Street Have ‘Gone Backwards’ (BBG)
- MIT Mistakenly Tells Some Applicants They’ve Been Admitted (BBG)
Overnight Media Digest
* Comcast Corp has agreed to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion in stock, in a deal that would combine the nation’s two biggest cable operators. With the proposed deal, Comcast almost certainly ends an eight-month takeover battle for TWC waged by Charter Communications Inc and its biggest shareholder, Liberty Media Corp.
* Apple Inc said it has verified that its suppliers do not use tantalum, a key metal used in electronic components, secured from sources that use the mineral’s sale to provide funds for violent armed groups in war-torn parts of Africa.
* Dropbox Inc, the fast-growing online storage company, plans to name Google Inc executive Dennis Woodside as its first chief operating officer. Woodside, a Google veteran of more than 10 years most recently ran the Motorola Mobility handset unit.
* Newly discovered documents had revealed that Google Inc has imposed strict restrictions on device makers that want access to its search engine, YouTube or the more than one million apps in its Play Store. In return, the device makers must feature other Google apps and set Google search as the default for users, according to the agreements.
* Verizon Wireless is easing into the cellphone market’s price war, cutting rates on some of its data plans by as much as 12.5 percent. Customers now paying $80 a month for a smartphone plan with 500 megabytes of data can get that same service for $10 less a month, among other offers.
* BNP Paribas SA Thursday announced an unexpected slump in fourth-quarter profit after it set aside a $1.1 billion provision against possible penalties for allegedly violating U.S. laws that restrict financial transactions with countries under economic sanctions.
* On Thursday, cable companies Comcast Corp, Time Warner Cable Inc and Charter Communications Inc along with tech giants Google Inc and Microsoft Corp , are expected to announce a new coalition to bolster efforts to expand access to WiFi.
* Lenovo Group Ltd warned its earnings in the short-term could be hurt by its acquisition of Google Inc’s Motorola Mobility handset business, even as the Chinese personal-computer maker reported a 30 percent jump in fiscal third-quarter net profit.
* Merck & Co Inc’s effort to sell its portfolio of well-known consumer brands including Coppertone sunscreen and Claritin allergy pills is kicking into high gear, with big consumer and healthcare industry players expected to put in bids that could top $10 billion.
* Avon Products Inc is in advanced talks with federal authorities to settle a long-running bribery probe that has dogged the beauty products company for years and could cost tens of millions of dollars to resolve.
* A giant solar-power project officially opening this week in the California desert is the first of its kind, and may be among the last, in part because of growing evidence that the technology it uses is killing birds. The $2.2 billion solar farm with nearly 350,000 mirrors, each the size of a garage door, that reflect sunlight onto boilers atop towers, creating steam that drives power generators.
* Firefox, the open-source browser that sparred with advertisers over tracking Web users, will soon display advertising. The non-profit Mozilla Foundation, which owns Firefox, said Wednesday it would sell a small number of ads, which will appear on new browser tabs for new users.
* Apple Inc appears to be scaling back its lofty TV industry plans. The company is talking to media companies and pay TV distributors including Time Warner Cable Inc about launching a revamped Apple-branded TV set-top box in coming months, according to people familiar with the matter.
* Deere & Co, the world’s largest seller of farm machinery, said Wednesday it expects U.S. tax breaks that helped propel sales of farm equipment in recent years to be reinstated later this year.
* Chinese cosmetics retailer Jumei.com has tapped banks for an initial public offering in the United States, said people familiar with the company’s plans. The IPO might raise about $600 million, at a valuation above $3 billion, and is expected to come later this year.
* Total SA was hit by the same mix of declining refining margins and high exploration costs that have slammed its European rivals in the fourth quarter, causing its earnings to slide.
* Cisco Systems Inc continues to face sagging demand for some important products, a problem exacerbated in its fiscal second quarter by some faulty memory chips. The company on Wednesday reported a 55 percent drop in income for the quarter, blaming a $655 million charge to cover the costs of addressing the memory-chip problem.
* Samsung Electronics Co is revamping its push into the U.S. enterprise and government sector, adding further pressure to the new leadership at the company that once dominated that space – BlackBerry Ltd. Samsung recently won an order for roughly 7,000 smartphones from the U.S. Army and is close to securing an order for several thousand devices from the U.S. National Security Agency, according to a person familiar with the matter.
* Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is pressing Canada for subsidies to keep production at a minivan factory in Windsor, Ontario, a move that underscores the clout global auto makers wield when bargaining with governments eager for manufacturing jobs.
* The chief executive of SoftBank Corp said its Sprint Corp wireless subsidiary needs to make another acquisition in the United States if it is to achieve its ambition of shaking up the country’s mobile-phone market.
* The Obama administration released voluntary cybersecurity guidelines for utilities, banks and other crucial industries Wednesday, framing them as a basic step companies can take to secure their networks against hackers and other online threats.
The Bank of England indicated on Wednesday that interest rates were unlikely to rise before next year’s election, as it unveiled bullish economic forecasts that support Finance Minister George Osborne’s claim that the economic recovery is on track.
Billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is in talks with Graham Holdings, formerly The Washington Post Co, to swap a 28 percent stake in the media company for control of one of its yet-to-be-formed units.
Two of the leading Bitcoin exchanges halted withdrawals after being hit by attacks from unknown computer hackers, further damaging the prospects of the virtual currency winning mainstream acceptance.
Cisco Systems posted an 8 percent slide in quarterly revenue as it struggled to cope with a slump in demand from emerging markets and a product transition that hit sales of its core router business.
Cadbury chocolate and Oreo cookie seller Mondelez International posted lower-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and sales as it struggled to grow amid tough economic conditions for food companies.
* Comcast Corp will announce a deal to acquire Time Warner Cable in an all-stock deal that will unite the biggest and second largest cable television operators in the country, according to people briefed on the matter.
* Senate Republican leaders rescued a measure to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, overcoming a threatened filibuster to clear the way for final approval.
* More than 1.1 million people signed up for health insurance through federal and state marketplaces in January, according to the government, and the number of young people enrolling increased faster than that of any other group.
* Toyota Motor Corp is recalling all of the 1.9 million newest-generation Prius vehicles it has sold worldwide because of a programming error that could cause their gas-electric hybrid systems to shut down, the automaker said Wednesday.
* The owner of WQHT-FM, the hip-hop station better known as Hot 97, is buying WBLS-FM and one other station for $131 million in cash, in a deal that will align some of New York’s most popular radio stations specializing in black music.
* The American Bankers Association announced on Wednesday that it was dropping its lawsuit to block parts of the Volcker Rule from going into effect after regulators modified what the group found most objectionable.
* Kroger Co, the biggest supermarket operator in the United States, faces a lawsuit claiming it deceived consumers by marketing a store brand as products from humanely raised chickens when the animals were raised under standard commercial farming.
* George Canellos, the former co-chief of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission, announced on Wednesday that he would be joining Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy as a partner and global head of the firm’s litigation department.
* The Walt Disney Co said on Wednesday that it plans to partner with the technology accelerator TechStars to advise and encourage 10 startups. Each company will receive $120,000 and work with Disney leaders like Chief Executive Robert Iger for three months starting June 30.
* A total of 131 CEOs in the United States, mostly at public companies, departed their posts in January, the highest monthly total since February 2010 and 15.9 percent higher than the same period last year, according to findings from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm.
* Standard Chartered Plc, the British bank that earns most of its profit in Asia, is prepping its Swiss private bank for a sale as it prunes its non-core operations, a spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.
* Grupo Bimbo, a large Mexican baking company, agreed on Wednesday to buy Canada Bread, a baking company based in Toronto that is 90 percent owned by Maple Leaf Foods, for $1.67 billion.
* The French specialty materials maker Imerys SA said Wednesday that it had signed an agreement to acquire Amcol International Corp for $1.6 billion in cash and the assumption of debt.
* Société Générale said on Wednesday that it had swung to a profit in the fourth quarter, as it booked fewer one-time items than it did a year earlier. The French bank also said it would raise its dividend.
* Lenovo Group Ltd, the world’s biggest maker of personal computers, reported Thursday it had made progress in its plan to expand beyond PCs, even before a planned acquisition of Motorola Mobility.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
* A crackdown on fake transit passes has resulted in dozens of arrests and almost 200 criminal charges. Most of those arrested were charged with knowingly using fake Metropasses, but seven are accused of selling them.
* There was some light rumbling under Lake Ontario late Wednesday caused by a minor earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey says the 2.9 magnitude quake happened just before midnight, 40 kilometres southwest of Cobourg, Ontario.
Reports in the business section:
* Chrysler Group LLC is proposing a major $3.6-billion retooling of not one but two Canadian auto plants as it enters high-stakes negotiations with the federal and Ontario governments for financial assistance.
* Husky Energy Inc said it sold one million barrels of Canadian oil to Indian Oil Corp, a state-owned refinery, in late 2013, a move that boosts the company’s ability to capture world pricing and helps open the door for more Canadian producers to ship crude to Asia.
* Two teenage boys were charged in Quebec Wednesday with first-degree murder and conspiracy in the deaths of two young sisters, aged 17 and 22, and the teenage boyfriend of the younger sister.
* Finance minister Jim Flaherty made a deliberate decision to unfairly shortchange Ontario to the tune of $641 million in the federal budget, Premier Kathleen Wynne charged Wednesday.
* The U.S. federal budget has closed a loophole offering a shortcut to wealthy foreign investors, which may impact Canada’s luxury housing markets in Vancouver and Toronto, already impacted by changes in immigration policy.
* Kinross Gold Corp surprised investors on Wednesday by slashing its gold reserves by a staggering 33 percent as it focuses on mining high-grade ounces in a low-price environment.
CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL
– Part of the southern Chinese Guangzhou Baiyun Airport will be included in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Free Trade Zone (FTZ), a source told the official paper. This would increase the zone’s size to over 930 square kilometres, around 30 times larger than the Shanghai FTZ.
– China’s securities regulator has raised the asset requirement threshold for bank-broker partnerships to 50 billion yuan ($8.25 billion). The new regulation will come into effect from Feb. 17.
– Shanghai will draw on international practices to develop an attractive tax policy for its pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ), the city’s tax authorities said on Wednesday.
– China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang emphasised the fight against air pollution and regulation of medical equipment at a State Council executive meeting on Wednesday.
RBS WARNED OF CREDIT RATING ‘DOWNGRADE’
Royal Bank of Scotland has been warned by one of the world’s main ratings agencies that its credit is at risk of being downgraded following the surprise revelation last month of weaker than expected capital levels.
Moody’s said it had put RBS’s debt “on review for downgrade” pointing to the taxpayer-backed lender’s “weaker than previously anticipated regulatory capital position”.
BANK OF ENGLAND TO KEEP INTEREST RATES AT 0.5 PCT FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER YEAR
The Bank of England has signalled it will keep interest rates on hold at the historic low of 0.5 percent for at least another year, despite forecasting strong growth of 3.4 percent in 2014.
SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: RBS BOSS PLAYS DOWN REPORTS OF LONDON MOVE
The chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, Ross McEwan, has made it clear the bank will adapt its business for an independent Scotland.
TWO HELD IN ROLLS-ROYCE BRIBERY INQUIRY
Britain’s Serious Fraud Office has arrested two people and raided five homes as part of its investigation into alleged bribery and corruption at the engineering group Rolls-Royce .
VODAFONE’S $2 BLN INDIAN TAX BILL ROW: PEACE TALKS ABOUT TO BREAK DOWN
India plans to pull out of talks with Vodafone over a $2 billion tax dispute, in a move that will prolong a row that is already more than six-years old and increase uncertainty among investors in Asia’s third-largest economy.
STRUGGLING MORRISONS LINKED TO PRIVATE EQUITY BUYOUT
The pressure on Morrisons Chief Executive Dalton Philips and Chairman Ian Gibson intensified on Wednesday amid rumours that the Bradford-based supermarket could be subject to a bid.
RECKITT SEEKS A CURE FOR HEALTH TROUBLES AS PERFECT RECORD ENDS
A faultless 15-year record of profit growth at Reckitt Benckiser was shattered yesterday when the household products empire revealed that it had been hit by weak emerging markets and a slump in American sales of drug addiction treatments.
MAURITANIA COMES UP DRY AS TULLOW DISAPPOINTS YET AGAIN
Long-suffering investors in Tullow Oil were urged to “be realistic” yesterday after the explorer revealed that another of its wells had come up dry.
DX REPEATS CHALLENGE TO ROYAL MAIL
One of a clutch of delivery companies to have made bold claims that it would profit from the decline in Royal Mail is set to be floated on the stock market – for the second time in ten years.
DX Group is expected to say today that it plans to raise £170 million on AIM in an initial public offering that would value the company at up to 180 million pounds ($298.53 million).
H&M TO OPEN FIRST STORE IN INDIA IN A BID CATCH UP WITH RIVAL INDITEX
H&M will open its first store in India this year as the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer becomes the latest to take advantage of the opening of its economy to foreign operators.
Fly On The Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot
Just before 7 a.m. ET:
S&P: -9.00 vs. fair value
Dow: -74.00 vs. fair value
Nasdaq: -19.00 vs. fair value
Domestic economic reports scheduled for today include:
Retail sales for January at 8:30–consensus -0.1%; ex-autos & gas consensus +0.2%
Jobless claims for week of Feb. 8 at 8:30–consensus 330K
Business inventories for December at 10:00–consensus +0.5%
Approach Resources (AREX) upgraded to Outperform from Sector Perform at Iberia
athenahealth (ATHN) upgraded to Market Perform from Underperform at Cowen
Children’s Place (PLCE) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at Piper Jaffray
Ctrip.com (CTRP) upgraded to Overweight from Equal Weight at Morgan Stanley
Helix Energy (HLX) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Raymond James
NVIDIA (NVDA) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at B. Riley
Nanosphere (NSPH) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Roth Capital
Angie’s List (ANGI) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Stifel
Angie’s List (ANGI) downgraded to Market Perform from Strong Buy at Raymond James
Avago (AVGO) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at JMP Securities
Depomed (DEPO) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Roth Capital
EastGroup Properties (EGP) downgraded to Reduce from Neutral at SunTrust
Itron (ITRI) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Canaccord
Itron (ITRI) downgraded to Sell from Hold at Brean Capital
Itron (ITRI) downgraded to Underweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Lorillard (LO) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies
Sempra Energy (SRE) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
The Medicines Co. (MDCO) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies
Titan Machinery (TITN) downgraded to Underperform from Neutral at Longbow
Acxiom (ACXM) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Chimerix (CMRX) initiated with a Buy at Canaccord
CoStar Group (CSGP) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Coach (COH) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Columbia Sportswear (COLM) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
CoreLogic (CLGX) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Costco (COST) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Craft Brew (BREW) assumed with a Neutral at Citigroup
Deckers Outdoor (DECK) initiated with a Neutral at Nomura
Dun & Bradstreet (DNB) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Equifax (EFX) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
FactSet (FDS) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Fair Isaac (FICO) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Gartner (IT) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Hanesbrands (HBI) initiated with a Neutral at Nomura
IHS Inc. (IHS) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Iconix Brand (ICON) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
J.C. Penney (JCP) initiated with a Reduce at Nomura
Kohl’s (KSS) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
lululemon (LULU) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
MSCI (MSCI) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Macy’s (M) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
McGraw Hill Financial (MHFI) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Moody’s (MCO) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Nielsen (NLSN) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Nike (NKE) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Nordstrom (JWN) initiated with a Neutral at Nomura
PVH Corp. (PVH) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Ralph Lauren (RL) initiated with a Neutral at Nomura
Ross Stores (ROST) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Sempra Energy (SRE) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Solera (SLH) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Stage Stores (SSI) initiated with a Neutral at Nomura
Stein Mart (SMRT) initiated with a Buy at Canaccord
TJX (TJX) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Target (TGT) initiated with a Neutral at Nomura
Tiffany (TIF) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
VF Corp. (VFC) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Verisk Analytics (VRSK) initiated with an Outperform at Wells Fargo
Wal-Mart (WMT) initiated with a Buy at Nomura
Time Warner Cable (TWC) to merge with Comcast (CMCSA) in $45.2B deal
AMEC to offer $16 per share, 0.8998 shares to acquire Foster Wheeler (FWLT)
ACCC took action against Pfizer Australia (PFE) for alleged anti-competitive conduct
Whole Foods (WFM) fell 7% after reporting earnings,revenue that missed estimates while cutting its fiscal 2014 profit outlook and lowering high end of sales growth expectations
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) may acquire unformed Graham Holdings’ (GHC) subsidiary
Apache (APA) sold Argentina operations to YPF Sociedad (YPF) for $852M
Colfax (CFX) to acquire Victor Technologies from Irving Place Capital for $947.3M
Teleflex (TFX) announced worldwide recall of ISIS HVT Tracheal Tube
CBS (CBS) announced $1.5B accelerated share repurchase
Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) sees return of about all free cash flow to holders in FY14
Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
Orbital Sciences (ORB), Encana (ECA), Higher One (ONE), Quintiles (Q), NetEase.com (NTES), CenturyLink (CTL), NVIDIA (NVDA), Cohu (COHU), MetLife (MET), SunPower (SPWR), Ruckus Wireless (RKUS), Famous Dave’s (DAVE), Skechers (SKX), Cisco (CSCO), Applied Materials (AMAT), NetApp (NTAP), Forrester (FORR), CBS (CBS)
Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
Calpine (CPN), Walker & Dunlop (WD), Kinross Gold (KGC), General Cable (BGC), Morningstar (MORN), LeapFrog (LF), Enbridge Energy (EEP), Zillow (Z), iPass (IPAS), Manning & Napier (MN), Intrepid Potash (IPI), Mondelez (MDLZ), Whole Foods (WFM), B&G Foods (BGS)
Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
Nielsen (NLSN), Student Transportation (STB), Digital Cinema (DCIN), LivePerson (LPSN), Tangoe (TNGO), Blackbaud (BLKB), American Equity (AEL)
Comcast (CMCSA) looking to step into Netflix (NFLX) streaming territory, WSJ reports
Google’s (GOOG) Android comes with restrictions for device makers, WSJ reports
Nielsen (NLSN) faces intense competition measuring online viewers, WSJ reports
Avon Products (AVP) in talks to settle bribery probe, WSJ reports
Winter weather forces automakers (F, GM,TM, HMC) to increase discounting, Reuters reports
Verizon (VZ) Wireless prepares price cuts, aims to close call centers, Re/code reports
Dropbox hires Google (GOOG) executive as COO, WSJ reports
KKR (KKR), Apax said to be mulling bid for Telesat, Bloomberg reports
Merck (MRK) consumer-brand portfolio could fetch $10B, WSJ reports
Amedica (AMDA) 3.5M share IPO priced at $5.75
AtriCure (ATRC) files to sell common stock for holders
Booz Allen (BAH) files to sell 7.35M common shares for Carlyle affiliates
Colfax (CFX) files to sell 6.5M shares of common stock
Enzymotec (ENZY) files to sell 4M shares of common stock for holders
GenVec (GNVC) files to sell $10M shares of common stock
Installed Building Products (IBP) 7.45M share IPO priced at $11.00
MacroGenics (MGNX) 3M share Secondary priced at $36.50
PTC Therapeutics (PTCT) 4.49M share Secondary priced at $24.50