Wall Street Breakfast

by: SA Editors
SA Editors
Seeking Alpha's flagship daily business news summary, gives you a rapid overview of the day's key financial news. It is published before 7:00 AM ET every market day and delivered to over 900,000 email subscribers.


Retail Sector Closes the Year on (Mostly) Down Note

Results issued yesterday by the National Retail Federation indicate that while many U.S. retailers posted disappointing December sales figures, upscale stores and some discounters did fairly well. The Federation forecasts that holiday sales will be up 5% for 2006, shy of last year's 5.4%, with November's 6.3% retail sales figure compensating somewhat for disappointing December results. Weather was a factor across the sector: in some areas, blizzards forced the closing of stores; while in others, temperatures were so warm that they eroded consumer interest in cold-weather merchandise. Online retail also appears to have cut into brick-and-mortar sales. Apparel retailers had difficulty this holiday season -- particularly the Gap, which took a 9% hit to same-store sales and will have to slash prices dramatically to clear merchandise. Target, on the other hand, enjoyed a 4.1% sales increase, while Nordstrom saw sales rise 9%. Federated Department Stores saw a sales increase of 4.4%. Wal-Mart surprised to the upside with a 1.6% rise in December over last year's sales -- not a spectacular performance, but ahead of its forecast of less than 1%. Wal-Mart is predicting weak sales results to continue into the new year, reflecting store disruptions for remodeling, difficult comparisons with last year's hurricane-related sales surge and unusually strong gift-card redemption figures, and intense competition from grocery chains. Wal-Mart has reiterated its EPS forecast of $0.88-0.92 for Q4 and $2.85-2.89 for the fiscal year.
• Sources: Bloomberg, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, USA Today
• Related commentary: Retailers' Heavy Discounting Should Pressure Q4 Margins, Holiday Retail Sales Falling Short, The Grinch Stole Christmas from Brick and Mortar Retailers...But Online Sellers Are Smiling, U.S. Retail Sales Relatively Strong as Holiday Season Ends
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: The Gap (NYSE:GPS), Nordstrom (JWM), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Federated Department Stores (FD), Target (NYSE:TGT). ETFs: Retail HOLDRs (NYSEARCA:RTH), Consumer Discretionary SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLY), Market 2000 HOLDRs (NYSEARCA:MKH), iShares Russell 1000 Growth Index (NYSEARCA:IWF)


Motorola Revises Q4 Forecast, Says It's 'Very Disappointed'

Shares of Motorola fell as much as 5.7 percent after it warned profits and sales would badly miss analysts estimates and internal forecasts. The company said late yesterday sales of cheap handsets hurt earnings, revenues in some regions missed forecasts, and CEO Ed Zander said he was "very disappointed" with the fourth quarter. The first of the big handset makers to disclose earnings, MOT's results had investors worried that Motorola 05 01 2007 Chartmobile handset producers are sacrificing profits to gain market share; Nokia shares also slid 4%. Paul Sagawa of Sanford Bernstein & Co.: "Motorola and Nokia are leaving every handset maker at the low end in the dust at the expense of a price war... You're going to have some fairly sharp downward revisions for 2007." Sales forecasts were revised to $11.6-$11.8 billion, less than the company's October forecast of $12.1 billion and the $12 billion Street average. Profits were estimated at $0.13-$0.16/share, missing forecasts of $0.38.
• Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters
• Related commentary: Motorola Releases Severe Warning; Implications For Nokia, Demand For Motorola RAZR Getting Duller, 10 Predictions for Wireless in 2007, Motorola Units, ASPs, Margins Under Pressure?, Motorola Comments on Sales Shortfall. Conference call transcripts: Motorola Q3 2006, Nokia Q3 2006
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: Motorola Inc. (MOT). Competitors: Nokia Corp (NYSE:NOK), Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson ADR (NASDAQ:ERIC). Suppliers: Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE:TXN), Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM), National Semiconductor Corp. (NYSE:NSM). ETFs: HOLDRS Broadband (NYSE:BDH), HOLDRS Wireless (NYSEARCA:WMH)


Tribune Co.'s Second Largest Shareholder Hires Outside Adviser in Possible Break With Management

Just two weeks before the deadline for final bids for Tribune Co., The McCormick Tribune Foundation, which controls 13% of the company, disclosed it had hired a financial adviser, a sign it could either be positioning itself to support or reject a management buyout of the company.trb Tribune Co. put itself up for bidding in September but has received scant interest thus far. If the auction process ends without a buyer willing to pay a reasonable amount for Tribune, the company's management could buy back some of the company's shares and pay out a dividend. The McCormick Tribune Foundation, which is currently Tribune Co.'s second largest shareholder, would have to determine whether to sell its shares to Tribune management. Bear Stearns analyst Alexia Quadrani believes The Foundation's hiring an outside financial adviser is a "vote of no confidence in current Tribune management."
• Sources: Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, Bloomberg
• Related commentary: Low-Balled in Its Bid to Sell, Tribune Company Ponders Its Options, Tribune Could Be Bought Out By Two LA Billionaires, Fewer Newspapers With Lower Circulation Is the Way of the Future. Conference call transcripts: Tribune Q3 2006 Earnings Call Transcript
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: Tribune Co. (TRB). Competitors: The New York Times Co. (NYSE:NYT), Gannett Co. (NYSE:GCI), The Washington Post Co. (WPO), The McClatchy Company (NYSE:MNI)

NY Times Sells Nine Local TV Stations for $575 Million

The New York Times Company announced yesterday it was selling nine local TV stations in order to concentrate on its newspaper and digital media business.nyt The sale, to private equity group Oak Hill Capital Partners, will fetch $575 million dollars and should close during the first half of 2007. With advertising down 0.8% year over year through November of 2006 - a decline which accelerated during the second half of last year, President and CEO Janet L. Robinson believes her company's "focus now should be on the development of our newspapers and our rapidly growing digital businesses." Robinson believes revenues from internet sites like NYTimes.com and About.com can increase by as much as 30% this year. Bloomberg reports growing pressure on Chairman Arthur Sulzberger and CEO Robinson were what forced the sale. Thyra Zerhusen, manager of the $635 million ABN Amro Mid Cap Fund, which owns 1.04 million New York Times shares, believes the NY Times got a fair price and feels the company should use the sale for debt repayment. Shares were down 39 cents, or 1.64% yesterday to $23.34.
• Sources: NY Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, Wall Street Journal
• Related commentary: NYT: 2007 to Mark Divergent Futures for Online and Offline Media, Ochs-Sulzberger Family Won't Yield Control Over Times Board, Scary Times for Newspapers: Sharpest Circulation Drop in 15 Years, Citi: New York Times Headed Downhill Due To Internet, Fewer Newspapers With Lower Circulation Is the Way of the Future. Conference call transcripts: New York Times Q3 2006 Earnings Call Transcript
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: The New York Times Company (NYT). Competitors: The Washington Post Co. (WPO), Gannett (GCI), Tribune Co (TRB), The McClatchy Company (MNI)


Oil Prices Plummet for Second Straight Session

Crude-oil plunged another 4.7% ($2.73) to $55.59 yesterday, making its two-day total -8.9% -- the biggest drop since December 2004, on continued concern over warm temperatures and growing inventories. John Kilduff of Firmat USA: "Temperature forecasts keep going up... [the weather] is clobbering both crude and heating oil." Western states have recently seen snow storms and freezing temperatures, but 80% of heating fuel demand comes from the Northeast and Midwest where temperatures have been balmy; some analysts even think last week's snow storms, which forced hundreds of Oil 05 01 2007 Chartcancelled flights and road closures, may have contributed to weak demand. Oil is down 29% from its July highs of $78.40. While weekly data released yesterday by the federal Energy Information Administration actually showed a drop in crude inventories, the rise in storage of refined fuels was eye-popping, including a 5.6-million barrel increase in gasoline reserves, more than quadruple analysts' expectations. This supports what analysts have been saying all along -- that consumer driven fuel prices lead oil prices, and not the other way around. Many traders also believe one or two major oil producers may have put on big hedges over the past few days, selling oil contracts in order to lock in a price for oil it expects to draw later, and protect itself against further price drops. Raymond Carbone of Paramount Options, an active Nymex firm: "It's really a tug of war down here..." He said there are still people buying because they believe crude prices will rise over the long term: "We're going to see who's right."
• Sources: Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, BusinessWeek
• Related commentary: EIA website's This Week in Petroleum, Phil Davis's oil market commentary, Oil Prices Plummet as Temperatures Rise, Warm Weather Driving Down Crude and Oil Stocks, Energy Market: Bearish and Overdone, Study: Washington's Oil Incentives Offer Little in Return
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: United States Oil Fund ETF (NYSEARCA:USO), Oil Service HOLDRs ETF (NYSEARCA:OIH), PowerShares Dynamic Oil & Gas (NYSEARCA:PXJ), iShares Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Exploration/Production (IOE), iShares Dow Jones U.S. Oil Equipment & Services (NYSEARCA:IEZ), SPDR Oil & Gas Equipment & Services (NYSEARCA:XES), SPDR Oil & Gas Exploration & Production ETF (NYSEARCA:XOP)

ConocoPhillips Q4 Output Below Forecast

ConocoPhillips warned yesterday that Q4 refining and marketing margins will drop sharply and that worldwide production will be flat with the past three months. The stock dropped 4.5% on the announcement before settling at $66.07, a 3.1% fall. The combination of ConocoPhillips's news and a downtick in oil prices to just below $60 sent energy shares downward, with the Amex Oil Index finishing the session down 1.9%. Some analysts point out that refining margins almost always drop between Q3 and Q4, since Q2 and Q3 are boosted by the summer driving season. The company's production level will remain flat because increased production in Alaska and the U.K. is expected to be offset by lower production in the Timor Sea, the continental U.S., and Libya. ConocoPhillips will report Q4 and full-year earnings on Jan. 24.
• Sources: Reuters, MarketWatch, International Herald Tribune
• Related commentary: ConocoPhillips: One of the World's Great Bargains -- Barron's, 3 Reasons Why I Bought ConocoPhillips, Fuel For Thought: Which Integrated Oil Company Should You Own?
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP). Competitors: BP plc (NYSE:BP), Chevron Corp. (NYSE:CVX), ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM). ETFs: Energy Select Sector SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLE), Vanguard Energy ETF (NYSEARCA:VDE), PowerShares Dynamic Energy Exploration & Production Port (NYSEARCA:PXE), Rydex S&P 500 Pure Value (NYSEARCA:RPV)


Gap Reports Bleak Holiday Numbers

The Gap reported holiday season sales which were "disappointing" according to CEO Paul Pressler; net sales decreased 4% to $2.3 billion from $2.4 billion y/y. Comparable store sales dropped by 8%. The company is revising its guidance downward from $1.01-$1.06 to $0.83-$0.87. Management Gap Stores 05 01 2007 Chart blamed negative traffic trends for disappointing holiday sales, and said the company will face lower profit margins due to heavy discounting that was deemed necessary to move merchandise. The chain’s directors have said they are conducting a broad review of the company’s strategy; its decision to intervene suggests the directors are fed up with poor results and executives who have failed to turn it around. There is speculation that, after the third straight lackluster holiday season, the board might replace CEO Paul Pressler. Pressler resolved to review brand strategies and stated that he was “committed to making the necessary changes to improve performance.” Gap shares rose $0.13 to close at $19.44.
• Sources: Press Release, Newsday/AP, New York Times The Street.com
• Related commentary: Gap To Put Old Navy In Play?, Retail Sector Closes the Year on a Mostly Down Note, Gap Dreaming of a Green X-Mas, Gap to Put Old Navy in Play, U.S. Retail Relatively Strong as Holiday Season Ends. Conference call transcript: Gap Q306
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: Gap Inc. (GPS). Competitors: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Hot Topic Inc. (NASDAQ:HOTT), Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYSE:ANF), American Eagle Outfitters Inc. (AEOS), Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. (NASDAQ:PSUN). ETFs: PowerShares Dynamic Retail (NYSEARCA:PMR), ST SPDR RETAIL ETF (NYSEARCA:XRT), iShares Dow Jones US Consumer Goods ETF (NYSEARCA:IYK)

Home Depot: New Beginnings or Tip of the Iceberg?

Wall Street Journal's "Heard on the Street" column discusses Home Depot, saying investors may soon discover that Bob Nardelli wasn't the only wrench in the works. Author Ann Zimmerman says HD has a heap of internal issues that are hampering the company's ability to address the challenges of declining home prices and tireless competition from Lowe's: (1) In recent months HD has lost several executives, leaving its top ranks sorely Home Depot 05 01 2007 Chartlacking retail experience. (2) Its poor customer service is legendary, and its stores are still run by outdated systems that often leave it shortstocked. (3) Many analysts feel Nardelli's successor Frank Blake lacks the retail experience to implement much-needed changes. Colin McGranahan of Sanford C. Bernstein: "Say what you will about Bob Nardelli, but he was a hard worker and knew how to fix problems... there is no easy fix." What investors would like to see: (1) Blake hiring some top-notch talent to strengthen his management team, something Nardelli was criticized for not doing. (2) More investment in stores -- updating inventory systems, hiring more workers and redesigning displays, to help HD compete against Lowe's newer, brighter stores. Analysts are mixed on the stock's outlook. Initially share prices soared on the news, gaining over 5%, but have since retreated; they closed down 1.2% to $40.57 yesterday.
• Sources: Wall Street Journal
• Related commentary: Lessons Learned From The Nardelli Fiasco: The Market Is Not Always Efficient, Home Depot's Board Is to Blame for The Nardelli Affair, Nardelli's Severance Package Was Pure Highway Robbery, Home Depot Investors Bought High: Unfortunately, The "Fool" Didn't Buy Higher, Activist Investor Ralph Whitworth Comments on Nardelli's Resignation
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: The Home Depot Inc. (NYSE:HD). Competitors: Lowe's Companies Inc. (NYSE:LOW). ETFs: Retail HOLDRS ETF (RTH), Consumer Discretionary SPDR ETF (XLY), Vanguard Consumer Discretionary VIPERs (NYSEARCA:VCR)


A "Pleasant Problem" at Toyota and Honda: Full Capacity

Bloomberg reports Toyota and Honda are in search of capacity as their North American sales and market share continue to grow at the expense of the Big-3. Not only are plants at full capacity, but exports from Japan jumped 36% in 2006 (through Nov.). Japan auto increased its combined market share in the U.S. to a record 34.8% in '06, led by a 12.5% sales gain by Toyota and 3.2% by Honda, versus declines of 8.7% for GM and 7.9% for Ford. Toyota-TM-Honda-HMC-1yr-chart-01-04-07 Japan's Big-3 plan capex of ¥2.69 trillion ($22.6b) in the current fiscal year ending in March. Both Toyota and Honda are building new plants in N. America, while Nissan is looking to buy existing capacity to avoid the costs of building new facilities. Honda's President commented last month that operating at full capacity "... is a pleasant problem to have." Shares of Japan's Big-3 fell in a broad market sell-off as the yen strengthened against the dollar. Toyota lost 2.4% to ¥7,900 ($133.62 ADR equiv. at ¥118.25/$1), Honda -3.0% to ¥4,600 ($38.90) and Nissan -0.8% to ¥1,443 ($24.41).
• Sources: Bloomberg
• Related commentary: Wagoner: GM Won't Go Down Without a Fight, Toyota Leads December Sales Growth, But Ford Holds On To #2, Toyota Production Surges to Meet Global Demand, Japan Auto Exports Remain Robust
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: Toyota (NYSE:TM), Honda (NYSE:HMC). Competitors: General Motors (NYSE:GM), Ford (NYSE:F), DaimlerChrysler (DCX), Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY). ETFs: iShares MSCI Japan Index (NYSEARCA:EWJ), iShares S&P/TOPIX 150 (ITF), BLDRS Asia 50 ADR Index (NASDAQ:ADRA)

Wagoner: GM Won't Go Down Without a Fight

In an interview Thursday, GM CEO Rick Wagoner said his company has room for growth worldwide and will forcefully defend its title as the world's biggest automaker. Toyota announced in December a global production target of 9.42 million vehicles for 2008, which would easily exceed the 9.2 million vehicles GM is estimated to have produced in 2006. While Wagoner wouldn't reveal GM's 2007 targets, he did say GM has the capacity to General Motors 05 01 2007 Chartbuild more than 9.42 million cars worldwide. As its U.S. market share shrank last year, GM cut production. But it's rolling out multiple new products, and Wagoner said the North American market should be healthier this year. Wagoner said he agreed with Ford CEO Alan Mulally that the UAW may have to make significant concessions in upcoming contract talks to keep GM competitive. He said the UAW already has helped GM with health care concessions and buyouts that will reduce its hourly work force, but that the company is not yet "fully competitive" in all aspects of its business. Asked "what if" Toyota does usurp the #1 spot, he said: "It won't be a happy day for me... We're going to fight to keep the position, and if one day we lose it, we'll fight to get it back." Separately, GM said Thursday it sold more cars outside the U.S. than domestically for the second straight year, and it hopes to ride a wave of growth in overseas markets. GM has recently implemented aggressive cost cuts designed to increase the profitability of its global product. Wagoner said the company will shave fixed costs to at most 25% of revenue in 2010, down from 34% in 2005, saying, "I think we can go beyond that."
• Sources: AP/Newsday, Wall Street Journal
• Related commentary: Is General Motors Spinning Its Wheels? [WSJ], Toyota To Become World's Largest Automaker in '07; Places Priority on Quality, GM Management Remains Stable While Other Auto Industry Heads Roll, Seven Wonders of Auto Retail for 2007, In the Kerkorian Drama, GM is the Clear Winner,Toyota Versus GM/Ford: Classic Hedged Pair Trade. Conference Call Transcript: General Motors Q3 2006
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: General Motors Corp. (GM). Competitors: Ford Motor Co. (F), DaimlerChrysler (DCX), Toyota Motor Corp. (TM), Honda Motor Co. (HMC)


Boeing Sets New Order Records in '06

Boeing announces it recorded 1,044 plane orders in 2006, its second straight record year after 1,002 orders in '05. It reports strength across the board, as some analysts expect the aerospace up cycle to continue into 2010 or '11. Boeing's Commercial Airplanes President and CEO comments, "The strong orders for the past two years are a validation of our strategy of focusing on our customers, simplifying our product and services offerings and transforming our production system." Boeing-BA-1yr-chart-01-04-07 He adds, "Beyond the order totals, we are very excited about the breadth and depth of our 2006 order book." Rival Airbus, which reports its '06 orders on the 17th, only had 635 orders at the end of Nov. Boeing could regain the lead in orders which Airbus has held since '01, but Airbus is still seen delivering more planes this year, est. 425 vs. 398, as it has annually since '03. Boeing aims to surpass Airbus in deliveries in '08. Based on list price, Boeing's '06 orders could be worth between $115.9b - $124b, according to media sources.
• Sources: Press release [I, II], Boeing: Orders and Deliveries, Bloomberg, BusinessWeek, Times Online, WSJ
• Related commentary: Defense Sector Bests the S&P 500 for a Seventh Consecutive Year, Defense Stocks Should Continue to Outperform in 2007 -- NY Times, Boeing Is Flying High, Boeing Continues To Succeed at Airbus' Expense. Conference call transcripts: Boeing Q3'06
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: Boeing (NYSE:BA). Competitor: EADS (Paris: 005730). ETFs: iShares Dow Jones US Aerospace & Defense (NYSEARCA:ITA), PowerShares Aerospace & Defense (NYSEARCA:PPA), Industrial Select Sector SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLI)


Eli Lilly Settles Bulk of Zyprexa Claims

Eli Lilly's Q4 profit is expected to take as much as a $500 million hit as a result of the company's settlement with 18,000 plaintiffs who sued over side effects of Zyprexa, Lilly's bestselling antipsychotic drug. At most, the settlement would amount to about $28,000 per patient, dramatically less than the $87,500 each patient received when Lilly settled similar claims in 2005. Lilly shares rose $0.11 to $52.36 on the news. Lilly has now agreed to pay at least $1.2 billion to 28,500 people who filed suit over Zyprexa. The company had net income of $874 million in Q3 2006 on sales of $3.86 billion. In 2005, Lilly sold $4.2 billion worth of Zyprexa around the world, representing about a third of total sales. In the U.S., sales of Zyprexa dropped 16% from 2004 as more and more patients complained of suffering from obesity or diabetes, apparently as a result of taking the drug. Lilly maintains that the claims are "without merit" but preferred to settle rather than litigate the prodigious volume of cases. Settlement will also free the company to devote its attention and resources to developing new drugs, particularly the blood-thinner prasugrel, for which Lilly has high hopes. Zyprexa was approved by the FDA to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Lilly is accused of both failing to alert patients to possible side effects and promoting the drug for unapproved use. In addition to suits filed by patients, Lilly is also being sued by the state governments of Alaska and West Virginia for improper marketing.
• Sources: Bloomberg, Reuters, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
• Related commentary: Serious Contradictions in Eli Lilly Zyprexa Data, Eli Lilly Accused of Promoting Off-Label Prescribing of Zyprexa
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY). Competitors: Glaxosmithkline plc (NYSE:GSK), Novo Nordisk A/S (NYSE:NVO), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE). ETFs: Pharmaceutical HOLDRs (NYSEARCA:PPH), iShares Dow Jones US Pharmaceuticals (NYSEARCA:IHE), PowerShares Dynamic Pharmaceuticals (NYSEARCA:PJP), SPDR Pharmaceuticals (NYSEARCA:XPH)


Bidding War For Hutchison Essar Heats Up, Possibly Leaving Vodafone Out In Cold

Bidding has intensified for Indian mobile leader Hutchison Essar, and it now appears increasingly likely initial front runner Vodafone will be closed out of the deal.vod Two new groups have entered the fray: Hinduja Group, the Indian conglomerate managed by the four Hinduja brothers and U.S. telecom giant Verizon. The Hinduja Group, which sold a 5.1% stake in Hutchison in June, has stated it wont settle for less than 51% ownership in the group. Verizon is considered a less likely buyer but Business Week is reporting the company is eyeing an entry into the Indian mobile market - expected to expand from 150 million to 450 million customers by 2010. Other bidders include a group led by India's second biggest cell-phone operator Reliance Communications, Malaysian cell-phone operator Maxis together with U.S. private equity player Texas Pacific Group, and the Essar Group, which would like to buy the two-thirds of the company partner Hutchison owns. Australian investment bank Macquarie, put Hutchison Essar’s enterprise value at $13.7 billion, with an equity value of $12.18 billion last month. However, Vodafone had bid as much as $18 billion as interest has intensified causing shareholders in the company to warn it not to overpay for the Indian company. State Street, 1.7% shareholder in Vodafone has gone so far as to state: “Vodafone must be prepared to walk away” if the acquisition criteria it has set are superseded.
• Sources: Timesonline [UK], Business Week, Forbes
• Related commentary: Business Standard: Hutch-Essar Buyout is Too Expensive, Vodafone In Booming Indian Wireless: Tread Carefully, Essar Group Offers Surprise Bid for Hutchinson Essar, Private Equity Trickles into India, Wireless Eyed
• Potentially impacted stocks and ETFs: Vodafone (NASDAQ:VOD), Hutchison Telecom Intl. Limited (HTX), Verizon (NYSE:VZ). Competitors: Telecom Italia S.p.A. (NYSE:TI), NTT DoCoMo (NYSE:DCM), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), France Telecom (FTE), Deutsche Telekom (DT). ETFs: Wireless HOLDRS (WMH), iShares S&P Global Telecommunications (NYSEARCA:IXP)


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