Private Equity Snatches Up ServiceMaster for $4.8 Bil. - WSJ
In the latest company to go private, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice will likely announce today the purchase of home-services operator ServiceMaster Company. An exclusive Wall street Journal report claims the deal is worth roughly $4.8 billion, including $700 million of the company's existing debt, quoting people familiar with the matter. The private equity firm is expected to pay ServiceMaster shareholders $15.63 per share, a 16% premium to Friday's closing price of $13.47. Shares have risen 15% in price since the company announced it was exploring sales options in November. Clayton Dubilier is expected to keep ServiceMaster's current management in place. With a corporate culture historically tied to evangelical Christianity ('ServiceMaster' is tied to the notion of 'serving the Master'), the new owners plan to on neither promoting nor rejecting the company's evangelical ties.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, Reuters
Commentary: Seeking Alpha Mergers & Acquisitions Page • Four Ways to Invest in Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway • Executive Compensation Out of Hand: Case Studies from OfficeMax, ServiceMaster, Baxter
Stocks/ETFs to watch: ServiceMaster Company (NYSE:SVM). Competitors: ABM Industries (NYSE:ABM)
Nintendo Wii Wins Console Sales Battle in February
According to research by NPD Group, Nintendo's Wii was the best-selling console in February in the U.S. with 335 thousand units sold, easily topping Sony's PlayStation 3 (127k units), which in turn was outsold by more than two-to-one by the PS2 (295k units). NPD's data is preliminary, but shows the more technologically advanced, but more expensive PS3 continues to lag both the Wii and Microsoft's Xbox 360 (228k unit sold in Feb.). On a cumulative basis (U.S. retail) however, the Xbox 360 leads by a wide margin, given its head start, with 5.1 million consoles sold, compared to 1.9m Wiis and 1.1m PS3s. Microsoft's spokesman told The Wall Street Journal the company is 'pleased with its market position,' referencing February game sales in which Microsoft held 6 of the top 10 spots. Microsoft is also upbeat about the forthcoming Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero 2 by Activision.
Sources: The Wall Street Journal
Commentary: Why the Nintendo Share Price Should be Affordable for Japanese Individuals • Sony Reveals Social Gaming Platform for PS3 • Nintendo's Secondary Not Necessarily A Bad Thing
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Nintendo (OTCPK:NTDOY), Sony (NYSE:SNE), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Gaming software publishers: Electronic Arts (ERTS), Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI), Konami (NYSE:KNM), Take Two (NASDAQ:TTWO), THQ (THQI)
Google Makes Several Software Purchases; Speculation It's Developing Mobile Platform
Speculation continues to grow that Google is in the midst of developing new software specially designed to run on mobile phones, which goes well beyond the map search and ad search services the company currently provides mobile users. The software will very likely resemble a fully integrated software platform that includes applications for accessing Google's Internet services. The company said in an email statement: "Mobile is an important area for Google and we remain focused on creating applications... However, we have nothing further to announce." In other Google-related news, the company bought a software program called Trendalyzer from the Gapminder Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Sweden. The software will allow Google to house information such as population growth and income distribution on animated charts which display trends over time, in an attempt to make statistics available to a wider audience. Terms weren't disclosed. In more Google news, the company bought Adscape Media Inc., a privately held video games advertising company. A new form of advertising that allows Google to expand beyond the web, U.S. sales of video game ads are expected to grow to $732 million by 2010 from $56 million in 2005. Terms weren't disclosed.
Sources: Wall Street Journal (i), (ii), Bloomberg (i), (ii), (iii)
Commentary: The Problem With Google's AdSense and How Yahoo Can Capitalize • Rumor Has It: Google Might Be Building A Phone • Hold the Phones: Google Charges into the Future
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). Competitors: Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). ETFs: First Tr DJ Internet Index Fd (NYSEARCA:FDN), Internet HOLDRS (NYSE:HHH)
Amazon Launches Discount Classical Music Store
Amazon.com has launched Blowout, a classical music discount store designed to serve a famously underserved music market. According to the New York Times, classical music fans -- who were left with very limited buying options after the closure of specialty music store Tower Records -- are an attractive market since they generally "buy, rather than steal, their music." Amazon's Blowout store complements the site's existing 100,000 album catalogue of classical music with 2,000 deeply discounted titles and a series of audio tutorials for customers who want guidance in building their classical collections. It also offers most of the full catalogue at a 30% discount. Thomas May, Amazon’s senior music editor, says that last year, Amazon’s classical music sales grew by over 22%. The health of the overall classical market depends on one's definition of the term: Nielsen SoundScan says classical sales leaped 22% last year, but it includes crossover albums like Andrea Bocelli’s “Amore” in the category. NPD Group, which does not include such albums, says classical sales fell 28% last year and have plummeted 54% in five years. Amazon will compete with Barnes & Noble, Borders, J&R and Virgin, all of which have boosted their classical offerings after Tower's closing.
Sources: New York Times
Commentary: What Bill Miller Is Buying And Selling • 12 Reasons for Amazon.com to Rise Substantially This Year • Amazon's Profit Falls 51% Despite 34% Rise in Revenue; Shares Trading Lower
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). Competitors: Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE:BKS), eBay Inc. (NASDAQ:EBAY). ETFs: Internet HOLDRs (HHH), First Trust Dow Jones Internet Index (FDN), Rydex S&P 500 Pure Growth (NYSEARCA:RPG)
Conference call transcript: Q4 2006
In Swipe at Google, Comcast Is Negotiating with Microsoft
In an indication of its displeasure with Google, cable operator Comcast is negotiating with Microsoft to install MSN's search function on its broadband portal. Comcast wants a greater share of the revenue generated when users enter terms into the search box on its site. The company will earn about $70 million this year from its arrangement with Google. But because Comcast.net gets about 15 million visitors per month, making it a major source of search queries, the company feels it is entitled to at least $100 million. Comcast is also dissatisfied with Google's efforts to increase searches from Comcast.net and claims Google has not provided enough information on how it uses the data it acquires from Comcast.net users. Google's deal with Comcast expires at the end of 2007, and Comcast has solicited proposals from other Internet companies. Despite its talks with Microsoft, Comcast might elect to stay with Google in the end because of its "scale, clout with advertisers and...popularity of its search results." Comcast is also talking to Microsoft, Yahoo and Time Warner's AOL unit about a multi-year deal to sell 80% of the advertising on Comcast.net.
Sources: Wall Street Journal
Commentary: GOOG Starts to Monetize Google Apps, "Brutal" Timing for Microsoft • Threatened by Internet Video, Cable Providers Strive to Compete • Internet Service Providers: Is Net Neutrality Hurting or Helping?
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Google Inc. (GOOG), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT). Competitors: Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO), DirecTV Group Inc. (NASDAQ:DTV), EchoStar Communications Corp. (NASDAQ:DISH). ETFs: PowerShares Dynamic Large Cap Growth (NYSEARCA:PWB), Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF (NYSEARCA:VCR), First Trust Dow Jones Internet Index (FDN)
Conference call transcripts: Comcast Q4 2006, Google Q4 2006, Microsoft F2Q07 (Qtr End 12/31/06)
Altria Considering Rival Bid for Altadis
The Altria Group, manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes, is mulling a rival bid for Altadis, the Franco-Spanish manufacturer of Gauloises. Altadis just rejected a €45 per share offer from British company Imperial Tobacco. The Imperial offer, which totaled €11.5 billion ($15.3 billion), was made last Thursday. Altadis claims that €53 per share would be a fairer price, and Imperial has indicated that it will continue to make "friendly" overtures. Imperial shares surged Friday on corollary speculation that Imperial would be taken over by Altria before it becomes too sizeable a competitor; such an acquisition would also give Altria market dominance in the U.K. There are also rumors that British American Tobacco might make a play for Altadis. Altadis, which has said it considers itself an acquirer and not a target, might make a retaliatory bid for Imperial. Analysts believe the Imperial bid for Altadis will likely set off "large-scale consolidation in the global tobacco industry."
Sources: MoneyCentral, New York Times
Commentary: Warning: Cigarettes May Be Good For Your Financial Health • Jump Aboard The Altria Train • Howling At The Moon: Dogs and Flying Five 2007 Stock Picks
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Altria Group, Inc. (NYSE:MO), Imperial Tobacco Group PLC [ADR] (ITY), British American Tobacco plc (NYSEMKT:BTI), Altadis, S.A. [MCE:ALT]. Competitors: Reynolds American Inc. (NYSE:RAI). ETFs: First Trust Morningstar Div Leaders Idx (NYSEARCA:FDL), WisdomTree High-Yielding Equity (NYSEARCA:DHS), WisdomTree LargeCap Dividend (NYSEARCA:DLN)
ENERGY AND MATERIALS
Report: Dow Chemical to Enter JV with India's Reliance
Shares of Dow Chemical reached a four-year high on speculation the company might set up a $20 billion joint venture with India's Reliance Industries Ltd. Dow CEO Andrew Liveris said last week that he would "neither deny, nor confirm" the rumor. The unsourced report by the Times of India states Dow will spin off its basic chemicals and plastics businesses into a separate firm, leaving the company free to focus on specialty chemicals. It remains unclear whether Dow and Reliance will set up a 50-50 ownership structure or give a greater proportion to one company. Dow has been shifting basic chemicals production to the Middle East and Asia, where natural gas, a vital component, is cheap and markets are growing. A JV with Reliance would be consistent with Dow's "light asset" strategy, which allows Dow to invest less in basic chemicals. The deal would likely be similar to a 2004 arrangement with Kuwait Petroleum Corp. in which several of Dow's American and European basic chemicals assets were shifted into two JVs. The report comes on the heels of speculation that Dow is shortly to be taken over by buyout firms for $54 billion.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, MoneyCentral, MarketWatch, Bloomberg
Commentary: Dow Chemical May Get $54B Takeover Bid -- Tabloid • Equity Investors in India Poised for Disappointment • Shadowed By the China Craze, India Outperforms
Stocks/ETFs to watch: The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW), Reliance Industries Ltd. (BOM: 500325). Competitors: BASF AG (BF), EI DuPont de Nemours & Co. (NYSE:DD). ETFs: Vanguard Materials ETF (NYSEARCA:VAW), Materials Select Sector SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLB), iShares Dow Jones US Basic Materials (NYSEARCA:IYM)
Barclays Launches First Mortgage Based Securities ETF
Barclays Global Investors launched Friday the first mortgage-backed securities ETF, its iShares Lehman MBS (mortgage-backed securities) Fixed-Rate Bond Fund, which trades under the symbol MBB. The new ETF has an expense ratio of 0.25%, and tracks an index of investment-grade fixed-rate mortgage-backed securities of government-sponsored mortgage issuers Ginnie Mae, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. All principal and interest payments from the mortgage pool are payed directly to investors, otherwise known as 'pass-through.' The index includes 30, 20 and 15-year securities that have at least one year until maturity and over $250 million in outstanding face value. While the index proper currently holds 387 issues, Barclays said it plans to sample the benchmark and not hold every security. Mutual funds that invest in mortgage-backed securities are nothing new, but MBB is the first ETF to address this well-followed market. While the listing's timing raised some eyebrows, considering the subprime market's well-publicized woes, the ETF holds no subprime debt, and according to Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at BankRate.com, it is not a "risky security." Trading on Friday was light.
Sources: MarketWatch, InvestmentWires
Commentary: New Mortgage -Backed Securities ETF Introduced • Seeking Alpha's coverage of New ETFs
Stocks/ETFs to watch: iShares Lehman MBS Fixed-Rate Bond Fund (NYSEARCA:MBB)
Barclays Approaches ABN Amro Regarding Possible Takeover
Barclay's bank has informally approached Dutch bank ABN Amro about a possible takeover. Neither bank has commented on the speculation. A takeover of the number-one Dutch bank by the number-three British bank would result in the biggest-ever financial-services merger in Europe. The combined bank would be worth 80 billion pounds ($155 billion). Barclays is said to be offering about €60 billion ($80 billion) for ABN, which has a market cap of €50 billion ($66.6 billion). An acquisition of ABN, which has outlets in 53 countries, would boost Barclays' retail presence in such markets as the U.S., Asia, Brazil, the Benelux region and Italy, and would enhance its securities, asset- and wealth-management services. Other banks said to be interested in ABN include BNP Paribas SA and Societe Generale. ABN's stock, which has lagged its peers' for years, has appreciated 7.5% over the past month on takeover speculation after activist investors, led by TCI Fund Management, began to prod the bank to merge, sell itself or spin off assets. ABN is expected to release new details of its restructuring plan, which includes cost-cutting measures and sales of non-core businesses, just prior to its April 26 annual shareholders' meeting.
Sources: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Bloomberg
Commentary: ABN AMRO: Children's Investment Fund Urges Break-Up or Sale • Who In Europe Is Likely to Be the Next LBO Target? • The Long Case for Barclays
Stocks/ETFs to watch: Barclays PLC [ADR] (NYSE:BCS), ABN AMRO Holding N.V. [ADR] (ABN). Competitors: Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE:DB), JP Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), Lloyds TSB Group plc (NYSE:LYG). ETFs: PowerShares International Dividend Achievers (NYSEARCA:PID), iShares MSCI Netherlands Index (NYSEARCA:EWN)
CNBC: Blackstone Considering An IPO
Private-equity group The Blackstone Group might file for an IPO within two weeks, according to a CNBC report. An IPO would provide Blackstone with more capital with which to make deals, but might also signal that Blackstone management perceives the financial markets to have peaked. That "King of Wall Street" CEO Stephen Schwarzman is considering an IPO is striking in view of his well-known resistance to the idea. Less than a month ago, he said he "think[s] the public markets are overrated" and has previously called public stockholding "a broken system." He says the emphasis public companies must place on quarterly earnings is a "tyranny" that "discourages risk-taking." Speculation about Blackstone has increased, however, since the IPO of U.S. hedge fund Fortress Investment Group last month. Fortress's shares surged 89% to $35 one day after it raised $634 million with an $18.50 per share offering. The shares were deflated by the global selloff and subprime collapse, but are still trading above their offering price at approximately $27. Schwartzman's purported new interest in an IPO is believed by some to indicate that he sees an imminent contraction of the inexpensive and abundant Wall Street financing that has enabled Blackstone's success up to this point.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, USA Today
Commentary: Blackstone's Teapot Tempest [BloggingStocks.com] • Will Blackstone Go Public? • Fortress IPO Does Not Signal A Hedge Fund Top • First Hedge Fund IPO Is Unlikely To Start A Trend
Stocks/ETFs to watch: ETFs: streetTRACKS KBW Capital markets (NYSEARCA:KCE)
China's Central Bank Raises Interest Rates 0.27%
The People's Bank of China raised its one-year benchmark lending and deposit rates, each by 0.27%, to 6.39% and 2.79% respectively -- its third hike over the past 11 months. It was thought there could be adverse effects on equities due to higher borrowing costs and more attractive yields from savings. Nonetheless, the Shanghai Composite gained 2.87% today. The WSJ quoted a Goldman Sachs analyst who viewed the PBoC hike as "positive" and said, "In our view, raising both the deposit and lending rates is a much more efficient and effective measure of monetary tightening than a reserve requirement ratio hike or intensive moral suasion on bank lending." Bloomberg quoted an RBC currency strategist who said, "Risks remain skewed toward another 27 basis point rate hike this year. Yuan appreciation is part of the tightening policies that we expect." Separately, market participants will be focused on the FOMC's policy decision this Wednesday.
Sources: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal [I, II]
Commentary: Trouble in Asian Equity? China Raises Interest Rates, Again • China's Premier Says Plans to Diversify Reserves Won't Affect U.S. Dollar • China's Commerce Minister Discusses Trade Surplus, Critical of U.S. Proposed Tariff
Stocks/ETFs to watch: iShares Trust FTSE-Xinhua China 25 Index Fund (NYSEARCA:FXI), PowerShares Golden Dragon Halter USX China Portfolio (NYSEARCA:PGJ). Bonds: iShares Lehman Aggregate Bond (NYSEARCA:AGG), iShares Lehman 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (NYSEARCA:SHY), iShares Lehman 7-10 Year Treasury (NYSEARCA:IEF), iShares Lehman 20+ Year Treas Bond (NYSEARCA:TLT), iShares Lehman TIPS Bond (NYSEARCA:TIP). Currency: PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest Fund (NYSEARCA:DBV), Euro Currency Trust (NYSEARCA:FXE)
ACTIONABLE BARRON'S CALLS
Barron's articles likely to move stocks today, culled from our Annotated Barron's Summaries
- Barron's interviews AIM Energy fund manager John Segner, whose fund has had 17% average annual returns over the last decade. His picks: (1) Bill Barrett Corp. (NYSE:BBG) -- its discount is due to transmission shortcomings that will be remedied with a new pipeline. (2) Southwestern Energy Company (NYSE:SWN) -- longer term it will trade significantly higher. (3) ExxonMobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM) -- "I love the company." (4) Petrobras Energia Participaciones SA (NYSE:PZE) -- it has one of the best growth profiles of any major oil company. (5) National-Oilwell Inc. (NYSE:NOV) -- the world's biggest rig and rig equipment supplier. (6) Grant Prideco Inc. (GRP) -- Street estimates are too low. (7) Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE:SLB) -- it stands to gain from its international focus. (8) BP plc (NYSE:BP) -- it's the largest solar developer and very big in other alternatives. (9) NRG Energy Inc. (NYSE:NRG) and Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. (NYSE:CBI) -- prime candidates to build nuclear plants. (10) Cameco Corp. (NYSE:CCJ) -- one of the better uranium plays.
- Shares of Textron (NYSE:TXT) have doubled (to $89) in the past five years. Its V-22 Osprey helicopter will finally be deployed in Iraq this year; government plans call for the purchase of 458 of these $70 million choppers. Other units include golf carts, power tools, and a financing unit, but helicopters and aircrafts are largely responsible for its 2006 record $13.4 billion backlog, which means the company should be able to increase profits -- by up to $1/share a year (EPS are currently around $6) -- just by filling backlog orders, and shares should double yet again over the next five years.
- Ryder System (NYSE:R) is a leader in the $295 billion supply-chain logistics market. Concerns over a slow economy have brought shares down to around $49, after having hit $59 last June. Ryder expects its current $6 billion in revenue to grow by about 7% a year, and for EPS to grow by 10-15%. Shares trade for an inexpensive 10x 2008e earnings. Management is consolidating operations and increasing cost discipline. If the company bests its conservative earnings guidance, shares could rally into the 60s.
- After years of subpar profits, Saks (NYSE:SKS) may have turned the corner. Same-store sales were up 24.7% in February, after January's and December's already stellar gains of 11.4% and 11.1%. At 2%, margins are way behind competitors Neiman Marcus (9.9%) and Nordstrom Inc. (NYSE:JWN) (12.2%), and CEO Steven Sadove forecasts margins of 4% by year-end and 8% within three years. LBO rumors, if true, would see any buyer paying at least $24 a share (from a current $19,37), and if not, a mid-20s price should be a given as margins and earnings grow.
- Alt-A (lower than prime but better than subprime) lenders such as IndyMac Bancorp Inc. (NDE) and Downey Financial Corp. (NYSE:DSL) have not fared as badly as subprime lenders in recent weeks. But Banc of America analyst Robert Lacoursiere says it's "increasingly likely" credit deterioration will spread from subprime to Alt-A and option ARMs. 77% of IndyMac's loan initiations are Alt-A, 54% of Downey's are option ARMs, and Countrywide Financial Corp. (CFC) has 42% portfolio exposure to option ARMs. Conversely, Freddie Mac (FRE) and Fannie Mae (FNM) may be sources of growth in a credit-tightening cycle because of their lack of exposure to high-risk loans.
- Subprime fallout is likely to affect home demand and prices. Credit tightening will be particularly harsh on the lower-end, so luxury homebuilders like Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE:TOL) [average home price $690,000] should fare better than bargain builders like KB Home (NYSE:KBH) [$277,000]. Michael Benhamou of Louis Capital says Toll will outperform KB Homes by 15% over the next three months. Traders looking to capitalize on a TOL/KBH divergence could sell TOL puts and use the proceeds to buy comparable puts on KBH.
- ST Microelectronics N.V. (NYSE:STM) has been plagued by flat sales, a struggle to cut costs, removing itself from the low-margin memory chip business, and competition from strong rivals like Texas Instruments Inc. (NASDAQ:TXN) and Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM). Sequential sales are down since June, and the company forecasts a further 3-11% drop in the current quarter. Most of ST's cell chips are geared towards yet unpopular 3G phones, its imaging chips face hefty competition from rival Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ:MU), and its anticipated Bluetooth entry faces rivalry from Britain's CSR, Broadcom Corp. (NASDAQ:BRCM), and Atheros Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:ATHR). Its pricey 23x P/E multiple is double that of TI, likely a result of speculation it may be a buyout candidate, which given ST's challenges, is unlikely.
- Cowan software analyst Peter Goldmacher thinks WebEx Communications (WEBX) will be making the wrong move if it sells itself to Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO). He says networking giant Cisco doesn't have the wherewithal to capitalize on WebEx's "on demand" data software. Enterprise software giants such as International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), SAP AG (NYSE:SAP) or Oracle Corp. (NYSE:ORCL) could do better at developing WebEx's applications, that allow workers to share information simultaneously. Goldmacher speculates a counter-offer may be in the making.
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