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.
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.
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.
Blue Buffalo Pays $30 Million Over False All-Natural Ingredients Claims
Blue Buffalo agreed Thursday to pay $32 million to settle a class action filed by its customers over false advertising allegations. In a press release, the company denied any wrongdoing, instead blaming a former ingredient supplier and a broker for the use of non-natural ingredients. The issue of non-natural ingredients by Blue Buffalo was brought to light last year when Nestle Purina PetCare took the company to federal court. Purina alleged that testing from independent laboratories had revealed the use of non-natural ingredients in Blue Buffalo's food, contrary to the company's ads, which claim Blue Buffalo products are all natural. Purina also responded to this week's settlement, saying it is "pleased Blue Buffalo is beginning to accept responsibility for its false advertising and mislabeling." The statement also revealed that the company will continue with its separate false advertising claim against the company.
Morgan Stanley Cuts 1,200 Jobs
In response to its slowest quarter since the recession for bond trading, Morgan Stanley has cut some 1,200 jobs around the globe in recent days. According to reports, the cuts were broad-based, with the bank's fixed income and commodities business shedding about a quarter of its staff. About 730 of the layoffs were back-office jobs across a number of divisions. In a memo to employees Tuesday, leadership said the cuts will result in businesses that are “critically and credibly sized for the current market.”
Yahoo to Spin Off Core Business Instead of Alibaba Stake
Yahoo Inc. reversed course on Wednesday, caving in to shareholder opposition to its planned spinoff of shares in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Instead, the once-dominant Internet giant will package all of its Web assets into a new publicly traded company, as suggested by activist shareholder Starboard Value. Investors had expressed concern about the tax implications of the Alibaba divestiture, despite arguments from company leaders that the spinoff would be tax free for shareholders. The decision to shift focus is considered a major blow for Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who was hired away from Google in 2012 to bring life back into the once-mighty Internet portal.
Initial Jobless Claims Hold Steady
The US Labor Department reported Thursday that initial unemployment claims held steady last week, fueling the sentiment that the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates next month. According to the report, initial claims came in at a seasonally adjusted 276,000 for the week ended November 7th, the same number of claims as there were in the previous week. Economists noted that the number is consistent with a stable labor sector, and could encourage the Fed to make a move on rates. Claims have now been below 300,000 for a staggering 36 weeks, and claims numbers are approaching levels not seen since the 1970s. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, has fallen to 5.0 percent, the lowest US jobless rate in more than 7 years. The Fed has held the benchmark overnight interest rate near zero since the end of 2008, and will discuss raising the rate at next month's policy meeting.
World's Two Largest Brewers Agree to Merger
AB InBev revealed Wednesday it has agreed to pay $107 billion to acquire SABMiller in a deal that would merge the world's two largest beer makers. The combined company will produce nearly a third of the world's beer, causing antitrust concerns to regulators, especially in the US market. To ease those concerns, SABMiller has agreed to sell off its controlling stake in a venture with Molson Coors, including the rights to the Miller brand name. Molson Coors will pay $12 billion for the SABMiller stake, and will assume full control of daily operations of Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and other brands. A name for the combined company has not yet been determined.
Macy's Cuts Full-Year Forecast, Retail Sector Stocks Slide
Macy's Inc. reduced its full-year expectations on Wednesday, sending shockwaves of concern among investors over the crucial retail industry. Wednesday's move was the result of several factors, including a warmer-than-usual winter that hurt sales of heavy winter apparel. Macy's also revealed it would not create a real estate investment vehicle for its stores, alarming some investors and causing shares of the company to lose 14 percent of their value on the day. The concern filtered over to other retailers, as Urban Outfitters lost 7.4 percent on Wednesday, and Michael Kors and Fossil each lost more than 4 percent.