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  • FDA delays approval of AstraZeneca heart drug. Shares of AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) are coming under pressure this morning after the FDA further delayed the potential approval of Brilinta, the firm's heart drug, and asked for additional analysis of data from a study done on the drug. Some analysts believe the request for additional analysis will delay final approval of the drug by at least six months, and "may also start to raise uncertainties about the potential scale of the product’s likely commercial success." Premarket: AZN -5.1% (7:00 ET).
  • Massey mulls its options. Massey Energy (NYSE:MEE) is reportedly exploring various strategic options, including selling itself or taking over rival International Coal Group (NYSE:ICO). Sources said Massey's discussions with International Coal from earlier this year resumed again at the beginning of December after a brief lull, and that the Massey board is also considering the continued interest of rival Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR) and at least two other coal mining companies in buying Massey. Premarket: ICO +5.4% (7:00 ET).
  • MetroPCS may buy TerreStar assets. MetroPCS (PCS) is said to be in talks to buy more than $1B of assets from bankrupt satellite operator TerreStar (OTC:TSTRQ), though sources caution that other parties are also interested and no offers have been made yet. MetroPCS is looking to acquire more spectrum as it upgrades its network for high-speed data services.
  • Total, Suncor ink oil sands deal. Total (NYSE:TOT) said it would spend C$1.75B ($1.8B) to partner with Suncor (NYSE:SU) in Canada's oil sands, including three projects in Alberta. Foreign companies have shown growing interest in Alberta's oil sands, which are seen as the largest potential source of crude outside Saudi Arabia.
  • Four arrests in insider trading probe. The FBI arrested four people yesterday as part of the government's widening insider trading probe, including three technology company executives and a salesman for an expert network firm. The four are being charged with revealing secrets about Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and other technology products to hedge funds looking for a trading edge. Authorities said a fifth person, a former Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) employee, had already pleaded guilty on Dec. 10 to charges he had provided inside information about the company.
  • Blackstone to restructure debt. Blackstone (NYSE:BX) has reportedly reached a deal to restructure around $7B of the remaining debt tied to its 2007 purchase of Sam Zell's Equity Office Properties Trust. Sources said the maturity of the debt will likely be extended to 2014 from 2012, Blackstone will pay down 10% of the debt, and the interest rate on the remaining debt will increase by one percentage point. It would be Blackstone's second major restructuring this year as credit markets thaw.
  • Card issuers reel from debit fee proposal. Card issuers were unhappily surprised yesterday after the Federal Reserve released a proposal that would cap the fee that banks and other debit card issuers charge to retailers at $0.12 per transaction. The swipe fees currently average around 1% of each transaction cost, and the $0.12 cap is significantly lower than what many card issuers had expected. If the proposal is approved, it will wipe out most of an estimated $15B in annual revenue. In yesterday's trading, V -12.7%, MA -10.3%, AXP -3.4%, DFS -3.1%.
  • FDA to curb usage of Roche's Avastin. The FDA confirmed plans to withdraw authorization to sell Roche's (OTCQX:RHHBY) Avastin for metastatic breast cancer, based on four new studies suggesting the pricey drug doesn't actually help patients with the disease. At $5.8B in sales, Avastin is not only Roche's best product, but also the global leader in cancer drugs, and the decision could shave $1B off of Roche's annual sales. Roche said it plans to appeal.
  • Oracle, RIM post upside surprises. Both Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) and Research In Motion (RIMM) beat expectations when they reported quarterly earnings yesterday (see details below), providing further evidence that tech spending is on the rebound. Oracle, which has been steadily expanding via acquisitions, saw quarterly profit jump 28% on a 47% increase in revenue, and sees sales in the current quarter increasing 32-36%. RIM posted a 45% jump in earnings and a sixth consecutive quarter of record phone shipments, though investors continue to worry about an erosion of RIM's marketshare by competitors like Apple (AAPL). Premarket: ORCL +4.1%, RIMM +0.9%.
  • Moody's downgrades Ireland. Moody's slashed Ireland's credit rating by five notches, to Baa1 from Aa2. Analysts had expected the downgrade, but were surprised by the severity of it. Moody's also warned further downgrades could follow if Ireland fails to stabilize its debt situation. Fitch downgraded Ireland three notches last week, to BBB+.
  • Geithner defends TARP. Testifying before the TARP oversight panel yesterday, Geithner defended TARP as "one of the most effective crisis response programs ever implemented," and said he believes the final cost to taxpayers is likely to total even less than the current $25B estimate. Geithner also said Ally Financial, the former GMAC, will sell shares to the public sooner than expected.
  • Tax bill goes to the White House. The House of Representatives voted 277-148 to approve an $858B bill that grants a two-year extension to all Bush-era tax cuts. The bill now goes to the White House where President Obama will sign it into law. The tax-cut deal, along with rosier retail sales, has prompted some economists to raise their outlook for 2011 GDP growth.

Earnings: Thursday After Close

  • Accenture (NYSE:ACN): FQ1 EPS of $0.81 beats by $0.06. Revenue of $6.1B vs. $5.7B. Shares +0.7% AH. (PR, earnings call transcript)
  • Oracle (ORCL): FQ2 EPS of $0.51 beats by $0.05. Revenue of $8.6B (+46.5%) vs. $8.3B. Shares +3.7% AH. (PR, earnings call transcript)
  • Research In Motion (RIMM): Q3 EPS of $1.74 beats by $0.09. Revenue of $5.5B (+18.9%) vs. $5.4B. Shares -2.6% AH. (PR, earnings call transcript)
  • Take-Two Interactive Software (NASDAQ:TTWO): FQ4 EPS of $0.67 beats by $0.36. Revenue of $374M (+32%) vs. $325M. Shares +6.2% AH. (PR)

Today's Markets

  • In Asia, Japan -0.1% to 10304. Hong Kong +0.2% to 22715. China -0.1% to 2894. India +1.1% to 19865.
  • In Europe, at midday, London -0.2%. Paris -0.1%. Frankfurt -0.1%.
  • Futures at 7:00: Dow flat. S&P -0.1%. Nasdaq -0.15%. Crude -0.25% to $87.48. Gold +0.1% to $1372.20.

Friday's Economic Calendar

The SA Currents team contributed to this post.


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Source: Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News