Indians have begun to vote in the world's largest election, which involves an electorate of 815M people. The ballot comprises nine rounds and will take five weeks, and results are due on May 16. The favorite to win is the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi, who has business support. Hopes that he can form a stable coalition and revive India's moribund economy have boosted the country's markets recently.
Nigeria's economy has passed South Africa's to become the largest in Africa after the government overhauled the way it calculates GDP. Nigeria now estimates that the size of its economy is 80T naira ($488B) vs a World Bank 2012 figure of $262.6B. However, the country suffers from much poverty, corruption, a massive lack of infrastructure and rampant oil theft. Still, that hasn't stopped investment from the likes of GE (NYSE:GE), Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG).
Holcim and Lafarge, the world's two biggest cement makers, have agreed to an all-share merger of equals that will create a company with over $40B in annual sales and a market cap of $50B. To assuage antitrust concerns, the companies plan to sell assets worth 10-15% of their global EBITDA, which stands at €6.5B combined. At the time of writing, Holcim's (OTCPK:HCMLY) shares were +2% in Zurich and those of Lafarge (OTCPK:LFRGY) were +2.8% in Paris.
Potash Corp CEO Bill Doyle plans to step down in July after 15 years in the job and will be replaced by Jochen Tilk, the former head of Inmet Mining, which was acquired by First Quantum Minerals for C$4.9B last year. Tilk takes over at Potash (NYSE:POT) amid a difficult market in which prices have fallen following the break-up of a major cartel.
BlackRock is giving new roles to at least 10 senior managers as it looks to prepare a successor to co-founder and CEO Laurence Fink. The money manager has promoted COO Charles Hallac to be Co-President with Robert Kapito, and given him the job of developing strategy and potential leaders. Rob Goldstein, the head of BlackRock's (NYSE:BLK) institutional client business, will replace Hallac as COO.
Vivendi has decided to sell its SFR unit to Luxembourg-based cable and mobile provider Altice despite Bouygues (OTC:BOUYF) sweetening its offer for the mobile business at the last minute. Altice will pay €14.25B in cash and give Vivendi (OTCPK:VIVEF) a 20% stake in a company that will be created via the merger of SFR and Altice's French Numericable subsidiary. The whole deal is worth over €17B ($23.3B), above the €16-16.5B that Bouygues bid.
GlaxoSmithKline is investigating allegations of possible bribery in Iraq, the company said yesterday. GSK (NYSE:GSK) was responding to a report that it had been warned that it was breaching U.S. and U.K. anti-bribery regulations by recruiting government-paid doctors to promote its products and paying for them to go to international conferences. Last summer, GSK was accused of bribery in China as part of an attempt to boost sales.
New York has reportedly opened a civil investigation into whether Credit Suisse (NYSE:CS) lied about engineering tax shelters for U.S. citizens. The probe, led by Benjamin Lawsky, New York's financial services superintendent, adds to one by the Justice Department into the role that Credit Suisse played in helping U.S. citizens evade taxes. The DOJ could fine the bank over $780M, the amount that UBS (NYSE:UBS) paid in a similar case.
Pfizer's Palbociclib treatment doubled progression-free survival to 20.2 months in a Phase 2 trial of 165 patients with advanced breast cancer. Palbociclib is part of a new class of drug called CDK 4/6 inhibitors, which limit the activity of two enzymes involved in cell division. Palbociclib is considered a potential blockbuster for Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and is forecast to sell $3.11B by 2020. Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) would receive an 8% royalty on any sales.
Yahoo reportedly plans to order four full-length Web TV series and is willing to pay from $700,000 to a few million dollars per episode for half-hour comedies of 10 episodes. The report comes as Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) struggles to grow online ad revenue nearly two years into Marissa Mayer's tenure as CEO. Two previous original video series have ended production.
Sun Pharmaceutical Industries has agreed to acquire fellow Indian company Ranbaxy Laboratories for $3.2B in an all-stock deal that will create the world's fifth-largest generic-drug maker. The merger combines two firms that have had problems with quality issues. Ranbaxy, which is owned by Japan's Daiichi Sankyo (OTCPK:DSKYF), is banned from selling ingredients to the U.S., while Sun's Karkhadi facility is also not allowed to export products to the U.S.
Cnooc is reportedly thinking about selling its 50% holding in Argentina's Bridas Corp, which the Chinese offshore oil and gas explorer bought for $3.1B in 2010. Cnooc (NYSE:CEO) would divest the stake if it can make a profit and would use the money for other projects. Hong Kong analyst Neil Beveridge would welcome a deal. "The contribution from Argentina is minimal, and the investment as a whole puts Cnooc in a passive position."
General Motors reportedly intends to invest $450M in two Michigan operations and add 1,400 jobs as part of the company's plans to build a redesigned Chevrolet Volt hybrid vehicle. An announcement about GM's (NYSE:GM) program is set for tomorrow.
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In Asia, Japan -1.7% to 14809. Hong Kong -0.6% to 22377. China closed. India -0.1% to 22343.
In Europe, at midday, London -0.5%. Paris -0.7%. Frankfurt -1.1%.
Futures at 6:20: Dow -0.3%. S&P -0.4%. Nasdaq -0.7%. Crude -0.4% to $100.73. Gold -0.3% to $1299.30.
Ten-year Treasury Yield flat at 2.73%.
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