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Monsanto Agrees to $80 Million Settlement Over Misstated Earnings
Global agrochemical giant Monsanto has agreed to pay $80 million to settle claims it misstated earnings for its popular Roundup weed killer. A spokesman for the US Securities and Exchange commission said that three executives have also agreed to settlements over the charges. The investigation was launched in connection with Monsanto's rebate program, designed to stop the bleeding as generic competitors launch cheaper alternatives to Roundup. SEC officials noted that the company did not have adequate accounting practices in place to account for the rebates, so the company ended up reporting solid revenue for Roundup products, but failed to account for the cash it paid out in rebates. As a result, the SEC noted, Monsanto's earnings were materially misstated for each of the last three years.
Google Honors Safer Internet Day with Gmail Security Changes
In honor of Safer Internet Day, which fell on Tuesday, tech giant Google revealed changes to its Gmail service. The changes were designed to warn users when an email they receive is sent over an unsecured connection or are not secure. The company began talking about these changes about a year ago, and has now enacted them on the Gmail service, which it reports just surpassed one billion active users. In addition to flagging emails that are sent over unsecured networks, Gmail will also warn users that send those emails over unsecure networks. Users will be alerted by an open-lock icon in the top-right corner of their browser when they either receive or send over unsecure networks.
Facebook's Privacy Woes Continue as French Authorities Issue Warning
Social media giant Facebook is under scrutiny in Europe yet again as the French data protection authority, known as the CNIL, has ordered the company to get its house in order. The regulator has given Facebook three months to comply with its orders to avoid charges, but warned that failure to do so would mean possible sanctions for the firm. Facebook has yet to comment publicly on the CNIL order, but confirmed that it has received it and is in the process of reviewing it. In a statement, the company claimed: "We are confident that we comply with European Data Protection law and look forward to engaging with the CNIL to respond to their concerns."
Coca-Cola Revenue Up Despite Declining Diet Coke Sales
Coca-Cola reported its fourth-quarter results Tuesday, reporting an overall rise in sales despite a continued decline in sales of Diet Coke. According to the report, average daily sales for the quarter were up 2 percent from the same period a year earlier, while sales of non-carbonated beverages like bottled water rose 6 percent. The company sees falling Diet Coke sales as a largely US problem, as sales of the diet beverage slumped 5 percent in the final three months of 2015. At the same time, sales of Coke Zero are up. Executives, therefore, have assumed that at least some of Diet Coke's decline is because consumers have switched from one diet beverage to another.
Sears to Accelerate Store Closings as Struggles Continue
Sears Holdings revealed on Tuesday it will accelerate the closing of some 50 retail stores this year and work on selling off other assets as the company's Sears and Kmart chain continue to struggle. The compnay explained the moves by revealing that holiday sales were well below expectations. In its latest guidance, the Hoffman Estates, Illinois retailer said it expects fourth quarter sales of $7.3 billion, down sharply from an $8 billion final quarter in 2015 and below analyst estimates calling for revenue of $7.4 billion. The company officially reports fourth-quarter numbers on February 25th. The company expects to report that sales at US Sears and Kmart stores open for a year or more dropped 7.1 percent as poor performance in their apparel divisions dragged down overall store performance. A spokesman said that the poor showing was in part due to unseasonably warm weather in many markets and "intense competition."
Job Openings Continue to Rise as Quits Climb to 9-Year High
The US Labor Department reported Tuesday that job openings rose in December and more American workers left their jobs, belying trends that may finally drive wage growth in the coming months. According to the report, job openings surged 4.9 percent from November to 5.6 million, the biggest such number since July. At the same time, some 3.1 million Americans quit their jobs in 2015's final month. That total, up 6.9 percent from November quits, is the highest it's been in nine years, at the beginning of the Great Recession. Economists were largely buoyed by the news, as Americans usually quit their jobs for higher-paying positions, meaning overall wages could be on the rise. Employers are also having difficulty filling job positions, and will likely have to increase their salary offers to hire in the coming weeks. Tuesday's report comes on the heels of a mixed jobs report that dropped last week, showing a slowdown in hiring but solid wage growth and a jobless rate that dipped below 5 percent for the first time in more than eight years.
Verizon CEO Confirms Interest in Yahoo Acquisition
Verizon CEO and chairman Lowell McAdam appeared on CNBC's “Mad Money” Friday, confirming rumors that he is looking into a possible acquisition of struggling web portal Yahoo. A disappointing earnings report earlier this week fueled investor pressure on Yahoo's management to consider a sale. The company also announced plans to close 5 offices and reduce overall workforce by 15 percent this year as CEO Marissa Mayer continues to try to stabilize the company before the clock runs out and a sale goes through. “Today, we’re announcing a strategic plan that we strongly believe will enable us to accelerate Yahoo’s transformation,” Mayer said earlier this week. The embattled executive also admitted that the company is exploring strategic alternatives, giving the best indication yet that a sale would be considered.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Becomes Third Film to Reach $2 Billion
Walt Disney announced Friday that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has become the third film ever to surpass the $2 billion mark in global ticket sales, matching the feat previously achieved by only Avatar and Titanic. The seventh Star Wars film achieved the milestone in just 53 days, far faster than the other two. The film also enjoyed the biggest opening in cinematic history, reaching the $1 billion watermark in just 12 days. The Force Awakens has already surpassed the sales marks set by any of the previous Star Wars films, and it's only the beginning of Disney's run at the helm of film's greatest franchise. The studio has already announced it will release the next film, Star Wars: Episode VIII in December, 2017; following it up with Epidode IX in December, 2019.
Twitter Increases Campaign to Rid Network of ISIS
Twitter revealed Friday that it has increased its efforts to stop ISIS-related activity on the social network by suspending suspected terrorists' accounts and hiring staff to monitor the network for terrorist activity. In a blog post, the San Francisco-based social media giant claimed it has supended more than 125,000 accounts over the past seven months for threatening or promoting terrorist acts or agendas. Most of the suspended accounts, the company added, belonged to persons suspected of belonging to, or supporting, ISIS. "We condemn the use of Twitter to promote terrorism," the post declared, “As the nature of the terrorist threat has changed, so has our ongoing work in this area.” Cyber-security experts in recent months have expressed alarm at the ease in which ISIS and other terror groups have used social media to lure disillusioned people, even Americans and Europeans, to join their cause.
H-E-B Issues Ice Cream Recall
International grocer H-E-B revealed Friday it is launching a voluntary recall of one of its store brand ice cream flavors because it may contain small fragments of wood. There have been no reports of injuries connected to eating the ice cream, but the company says there is a small possibility of choking. The recall is for the store's Creamy Creations brand Caramel Pecan Turtle flavored ice cream. Only products with Sell By dates of April 16th, May 10th, June 7th, and July 18th are affected, and the UPC code on the recalled products is 0 4122051877 7. If you purchased one or more packages of the recalled ice cream, you can return it to your local H-E-B store for a full refund.