Tag Archives: News event
by Liz Hester
This is the week. The highly anticipated initial public offering for Twitter is likely to sell this week and the media was keen to advance the story. There were a couple of pieces about Twitter’s ability to sell more ads abroad.
Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s story:
Three-fourths of Twitter Inc. users are overseas. But only one-fourth of its revenue comes from non-U.S. advertisers.
To Twitter, that is a “substantial opportunity” as it readies to go public as soon as this week. But it will also be a big challenge to convert a global following into sales and profits.
Twitter’s international operations were a major topic of questions during a pre-IPO “roadshow” meeting with investors last Wednesday at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York, according to an investment manager who attended.
Analysts say the messaging service must mind cultural differences while promoting itself abroad. In Japan, for example, users tend to keep their accounts private and circle of followers small, while Brazilian users are public and liberally follow one another. It also must compete with popular local rivals, such as Sina Corp.’s Weibo in China, Japan’s Line and South Korea’s Kakao Inc.
Until recently, Twitter’s overseas growth was more spontaneous than by design. It attracted large numbers of users around events such as the Arab Spring and 2011 Japan earthquake. But many users drifted away when the news cooled, and Twitter was more focused on building out its U.S. business.
Now, Twitter is working on bringing users and advertisers outside the U.S. on board. In Korea, where it is introduced ads last Friday, it is trying to forge relationships with TV networks and advertising agencies.
The New York Times version of the story started with more of the hard numbers at the top:
The problem is, Twitter is still figuring out how to make money from those users abroad. The company received 26 percent of its total revenue from markets outside the United States in the third quarter, compared with around 17 percent at the end of last year, according to regulatory filings.
Turning that global popularity into international ad sales remains tricky for the company, which is based in San Francisco, as it nears an initial public offering of stock. Many overseas brands are more skeptical of the impact of social media advertising than their American counterparts, while Twitter faces stiff competition from local social media rivals like Line of Japan, which already has hundreds of millions of registered users across Asia.
Twitter also has yet to expand its foothold in many international markets. That includes the global debut of its self-service advertising system, begun in the United States in late 2011, which allows brands to buy ads without talking directly to a sales representative. The company plans to bring that system to a number of global markets, according to regulatory filings.
“Twitter is not quite there yet,” said Oliver Eriksson, head of strategy at the digital ad agency VML in London, whose clients include Microsoft and Gatorade. He said the company still had to prove to potential clients that its advertising platform could reach international consumers. “They need to do it quickly to give brands confidence that Twitter can add value,” Mr. Eriksson said.
That skepticism is reflected in Twitter’s ad sales outside the United States.
While Twitter’s highly publicized initial public offering is estimated to value the company at roughly $12 billion, it still remains a relatively small player in the world of digital advertising. Twitter is expected to grab just 0.5 percent, or $580 million, of the total spending on worldwide digital advertising this year, according to the research firm eMarketer. That compares to $6.4 billion that will probably be spent on its archrival Facebook in 2013.
For international brands, Twitter’s relatively small scale could prove a deterrent. Many companies, like Nestlé and Unilever, are looking to increase their advertising spending within social media as more consumers spend increasingly more time online. But analysts say that Twitter’s relatively small footprint makes it a harder sell.
Reuters reported that investors are watching to see if Twitter’s IPO takes the same course as Facebook’s:
The market will be on alert to see if Twitter follows the fate of last year’s botched Facebook Inc IPO: the social networking company’s stock hit the market in May 2012 and was plagued by allocation problems, trading glitches and a selloff. The shares did not recover the IPO price until a year later.
Views have been mixed on what investing strategy to take for Twitter’s IPO. According to a Reuters survey of 29 broker-dealers and independent advisers, 23 said they are not recommending Twitter shares. Only one said he would recommend it – and only to certain clients. Five others said they would wait to snap up the stock if it plunges after it begins to trade.
But while retail interest might be low, tech industry analysts say there is expected to be a good appetite for Twitter’s stock from institutional investors at the current valuation.
On Friday, Morningstar joined three other brokerages in setting price targets for Twitter Inc well above its IPO price range, suggesting the stock has room to rise at least 30 percent.
That’s a good sign for early investors, if you can get the stock, which USA Today reports isn’t likely:
Relatively few investors actually get allocated stock at the IPO price, while the rest are left to buy at whatever the market commands, and history has shown that highly hyped stocks (like Twitter) often command enormous prices relative to actual earnings.
Data compiled by Forbes shows that of all the IPOs priced since Sept. 12, 19 have returned over 20%, averaging a 69% gain over just a few weeks. On average, these stocks opened for trading on the day of their IPO at a price 49% higher than the IPO price and only experienced 9% further upside on average the rest of that trading session.
IPOs make great stories, especially since they offer the first look at previously undisclosed information. They don’t however typically make many regular people rich. But if Twitter can capitalize on it’s opportunities in markets outside the U.S., then it could make buy-and-hold investors some money in the long-term.
Some of Friday’s top stories:
New York Times
When insurers drop policies: Three stories, by Katie Thomas and Reed Abelson
Angry over U.S. surveillance, tech giants bolster defenses, by Claire Cain Miller
F.C.C. plans sweeping changes to bolster AM radio, by Edward Wyatt
Sony loses $2.2 billion in market value after forecast cut, by Mariko Yasu and Grace Huang
U.S. government shutdown dampens October car sales, by Bernie Woodall and Ben Klayman
U.S. factory growth readings mixed, but show expansion, by Rodrigo Campos
‘I graduated with thousands of dollars left over,’ by Blake Ellis
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by Liz Hester
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has been in the news lately, especially as it restarts after the government shutdown.
The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story about the CFTC being undersized and lacking funding to bring charges in certain cases:
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is so cash-starved that the agency is being forced to delay cases, shelve certain probes and decided not to file charges against two former traders over J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s “London whale” trading mess, a top official said.
In an interview, David Meister, who stepped down this week as the CFTC’s enforcement chief, said the agency is “absolutely undersized” for the sprawling futures and options markets it must police.
“We will do everything we can…but we have limited staff and limited resources,” Mr. Meister said. “Ultimately, it comes down to the math.”
The 50-year-old former prosecutor’s warning came Wednesday, his last day at the CFTC after a near-three-year enforcement stint. Since he joined the CFTC in January 2011, the once-obscure agency has reinvented itself to become an apparent force to be reckoned with.
During Mr. Meister’s watch, the CFTC nearly doubled its enforcement actions and tripled its sanctions, compared with the previous three-year period. This year alone, it has filed a number of high-profile cases, including civil actions against Jon S. Corzine, former chief executive of MF Global Holdings Ltd., and CME Group Inc., the world’s largest futures-exchange operator. Both deny wrongdoing and are fighting the cases.
The call for more funding came after the New York Times had a story Oct. 30 about the agency’s move to tighten rules and enforce new ones:
In October 2011, as the futures broker MF Global teetered on the brink of collapse, it dipped into client accounts in an effort to avert bankruptcy.
But the action failed to save the broker, and its implosion left thousands of clients short a total of $1.6 billion.
Two years after MF Global’s bankruptcy, regulators have sought to restore confidence in the industry, tightening rules that force brokerage firms to better safeguard client money.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission voted 3 to 1 on Wednesday to finish rules proposed a year ago to protect customers, including measures to close loopholes, reinforce internal risk controls and force brokers to provide more information to clients.
“This new information is critical in today’s world of high-frequency trading,” said Gary S. Gensler, chairman of the commission. “Thus, with these reforms, the commission will get additional tools to oversee the markets’ largest day traders and high-frequency traders.”
The new rules are part of a wider shift in policy to better regulate the futures industry after years of lighter-touch policy.
Brokers will be subject to tougher auditing standards and will be required to provide daily reports that include details of each separate client account. Those reports will be filed electronically. Mr. Gensler said that step was “the right place to be in the 21st century.”
The commission also voted to close a loophole that allowed brokerage firms to use money from client accounts that traded overseas under an exemption called the “alternative calculation.”
The most debated of the new rules will change how brokers keep collateral and make margin calls to ensure limits on defaults. Brokers, who are required to provide a financial buffer in client accounts, will also be forced to make clients pay several days earlier than they do now.
The regulations come after the agency had to furlough workers during the government shutdown, disrupting negotiations with firms as well as the ability to take enforcement action. Bloomberg had this story Oct. 24:
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the main U.S. derivatives regulator that pried $1.7 billion in fines and other penalties from the firms it regulates during the past year, is furloughing workers because it doesn’t have enough money to pay them.
“This is the budget reality we face,” CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler told employees today in an e-mail, which announced they would be asked not to work on as many as 14 days in the fiscal year that began this month. “I understand this is extremely tough news for your families and you. I want to thank each and every one of you for your dedication to this agency and your hard work, which is of great benefit to the American public.”
The CFTC’s investigation of manipulation of the London InterBank Offered Rate, which sets rates on products such as mortgages and interest-rate derivatives, led to fines this year including $700 million from UBS AG. The furloughs coincide with the Washington-based regulator’s mandate, stemming from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, to start overseeing the $633 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market.
“The timing is unfortunate given the need to implement Dodd-Frank,” said Robert Webb, a finance professor at the University of Virginia. The 16-day partial U.S. government shutdown this month also disrupted the agency, and further time off will only make the CFTC’s job harder, he said.
It’s going to be hard for the agency to enforce new rules if it doesn’t have money. This is another unforeseen aftermath of new financial regulations, granting new oversight but not giving agencies the ability to follow through.
Some of Thursday’s top stories:
New York Times
Fed extends stimulus as growth stumbles, by Binyamin Appelbaum
Mobile ads fuel a jump in profit at Facebook, by Vindu Goel
Shell profit misses analyst estimates as global output drops, by Eduard Gismatullin
Wall Street firms poised to disappoint bankers on bonuses, by Michael J. Moore and Zeke Faux
U.S. jobless claims fall in better news for labor market, by Alister Bull
Sony slashes profit outlook with TV business back in red, by Sophie Knight
Meet the biggest banjo maker in the U.S., by Cristina Rouvalis
Apple’s CapEx: $11 billion for plants, equipment and a spaceship, by Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Brazil’s beleaguered OGX files for bankruptcy, by Alanna Petroff
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by Liz Hester
Facebook’s earnings for the third quarter rose on the strength of mobile advertising, which as several outlets reported, was good for Twitter’s upcoming initial public offering. But coverage, especially the headlines on the stories, differed in what part of the earnings they chose to emphasize.
The New York Times story, which had a stilted lead about Halloween, ran using the headline “Mobile Ads Fuel a Jump in Profit at Facebook.”
Facebook, which operates the largest online social network, reported Wednesday that its profits doubled in the third quarter, to $621 million, after excluding expenses related to stock options.
The company’s revenue rose 60 percent, to $2.02 billion, compared with last year’s third quarter. Most of that, about $1.8 billion, came from advertising.
Perhaps most important for Facebook’s future as an advertising-driven company in a world of iPads and Android smartphones, the company noted that mobile ads accounted for 49 percent of its advertising revenue, up from 41 percent in the second quarter. Facebook said prices for mobile ads remained high, and users were clicking on them in their news feeds more frequently.
That bodes well, analysts said, for its smaller rival, Twitter, which takes a similar approach to mobile ads and is preparing to sell stock to investors in an initial offering as soon as next week.
Clark Fredricksen, a vice president with eMarketer, a research firm, said Twitter would benefit from Facebook’s efforts in mobile because the larger company had been investing heavily in educating marketers and users about mobile ads.
“Facebook has been a major force in helping advertisers and users get more comfortable with seeing and buying mobile ads,” he said.
Other big Internet companies like Yahoo and AOL are benefiting less from mobile ads, he said, because their ads are fragmented across various sites and are less appealing to advertisers.
The Wall Street Journal story pointed out in the beginning that investors were concerned by comments made during the report. Its headline was “Facebook Status: Big Gains, But Worries Ahead”:
Facebook Inc. spooked investors with warnings that it may be nearing the limits of one of its most important areas of revenue growth.
After reporting strong third-quarter financial results, Facebook executives told analysts that they may not be able to cram any more ads into users’ news feeds, and that U.S. teens are spending less time on the site.
Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman said Facebook doesn’t expect to “significantly increase” the share of ads in a user’s news feed from what it is now. The inclusion of ads into those feeds, last year, helped propel a big increase in Facebook revenue. Instead, Facebook will rely on improving the quality and relevance of the ads to drive up prices, he said.
Mr. Ebersman also said the number of U.S. teens using Facebook daily declined from the previous quarter. He called the decline “of questionable statistical significance” and said it is hard to measure the number of teen users on the network because their self-reported ages are unreliable.
Those worrisome signs overshadowed a better-than-expected earnings report that showed the company swinging to a profit on a 60% jump in revenue, topping $2 billion for the first time.
Despite those worries, the CNBC story ran using the headline, “Facebook Earnings Blow Past Expectations” and was incredibly positive:
Facebook topped Wall Street’s sales targets on Wednesday, as robust growth in its mobile advertising business drove a 60 percent increase in revenue.
Following the earnings beat, Facebook’s stock shot higher but erased gains after the company’s earnings call.
The Washington Post story also had a fairly positive headline – “Facebook earnings: Revenue up 60 percent as social network expands its mobile audience”:
Facebook reported a 60 percent jump in third-quarter revenue Wednesday, driven by the social network’s growing success in capturing a mobile audience.
The number of active monthly Facebook users climbed 18 percent overall during the quarter but spiked 45 percent on mobile devices. Advertising profits jumped 66 percent year over year, with 49 percent of that revenue coming from mobile.
Since its initial public offering last year, the firm has faced lingering Wall Street skepticism that it will develop a profitable advertising strategy. Wednesday’s earnings could help address some of those concerns.
After closing down slightly at about $49 a share Wednesday, the firm’s stock shot up 15 percent after the earnings report was released. The results beat analysts’ expectations.
It’s usually not a good sign when investors like the initial numbers and then decide the comments from the company are enough to sell the stock. Facebook will need to capture the eyeballs of younger users as well as find a way to increase advertising in order to continue to grow revenue. It’s the growth part that can be the curse for more mature technology companies. That’s only highlighted by the fact that the much younger Twitter will likely debut this week.
Some of Wednesday’s top stories:
New York Times
GM earnings fall on overseas operations, by Bill Vlasic
For once-mighty Sears, pictures of decay, by David Gelles
Wall Street Journal
Google nears smartwatch launch, by Eva Dou and Lorraine Luk
PricewaterhouseCoopers agrees to purchase Booz, by Laura Marcinek
The brains behind the ‘sexy pizza’ costume, by Colleen Leahey
U.S. private hiring slows, consumer inflation stays muted, by Lucia Mutikani
U.S. health secretary takes blame for troubled insurance website, by Susan Heavey
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by Liz Hester
The good news: August home prices were up. The bad news: The gains are slowing, indicating that prices may have peaked. After a government shutdown in October, it’s also likely that growth – if there was any – slowed again.
The Associated Press had this story via the New York Times:
Home prices rose in August from a year earlier at the fastest pace since February 2006. But the price gains slowed in many cities from July, a sign that rising prices over the last year may have peaked.
Other reports released on Tuesday showed that consumer confidence fell sharply this month as the federal government was partly shut down for 16 days, while retail sales dipped in September. And inflation at the wholesale level was negligible.
The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 12.8 percent over the 12 months that ended in August. That compares with 12.4 percent in July from a year earlier. All 20 cities showed year-over-year gains.
But a measure of month-over-month prices for the 20 cities rose just 1.3 percent in August. That is down from a 1.8 percent month-over-month gain in July. And 16 of the 20 cities reported more modest price increases in August than in July.
Greater demand and a tighter supply of homes for sale have helped drive prices higher over the last year. But over the summer, mortgage rates rose from their record lows. Weak job growth is also discouraging potential home buyers.
Bloomberg Businessweek reminded readers that renting is still more expense than buying, continuing to drive sales:
The news follows a less-buoyant release yesterday from the National Association of Realtors showing that pending existing home sales fell in September for the fourth straight month, which analysts attributed to rising interest rates. While that doesn’t sound optimistic, it’s still up 1.1 percent over a year earlier because housing is so cyclical. Any slowdown this fall is largely seasonal, Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey said in a report before the NAR data was released.
HousingPulse is optimistic that, despite rising rates, the market remains “quite strong.” It says homes are selling quicker and going for closer-to-asking price than earlier this year, when rates were lower. It also points out that in September, the share of distressed properties on the market stood at a four-year low of 24.6 percent. As Trulia economist Jed Kolko reminds us, there’s another driver of demand: If you think buying is expensive, try renting.
Index creator (and Nobel Prize winner) Robert Shiller agreed that buying a home is still affordable despite the recent market gains, according to CNBC:
Home prices rose at their fastest pace in seven years in August, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price indexes, but one of the widely watched indexes’ creators claimed homes are still affordable, and there is no national price bubble.
“I define a bubble as a time when people have extravagant expectations, and the expectations are driving home price increases,” said Robert Shiller, Case-Shiller index co-founder and Yale University professor of economics, in an interview with CNBC. “We don’t have the mindset of earlier this century.”
Home prices are not being driven by extravagant expectations, as they were in 2005 and 2006, but by historically low inventory and strong investor demand. Sales, however, are beginning to fall off, as indicated by the latest pending home sales report from the National Association of Realtors. It showed a nearly 6 percent drop in signed contracts to buy existing homes in September from the previous month.
The Bloomberg story said borrowing costs are already starting to erode the momentum:
Higher borrowing costs are already starting to bite. Fewer Americans signed contracts to purchase existing (ETSLTOTL) homes in September, the National Association of Realtors reported yesterday. The group’s index fell 5.6 percent, the most in more than three years and the fourth straight decline.
Existing-home sales, measured when a deal closes, also fell in September for the first time in three months, the Realtors’ group reported last week. Purchases dropped 1.9 percent to a 5.29 million annual rate.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.58 percent in the week ended Aug. 22, the highest level since July 2011. It’s since fallen, averaging 4.13 percent for the week ended Oct. 24, according to Freddie Mac in McLean, Virginia.
Homebuilders and their suppliers are getting a lift from the housing recovery. Weyerhaeuser Co. (WY), a timber supplier and developer based in Federal Way, Washington, expects to close more than 1,100 homes in the last three months of this year, up about 35 percent from a year ago, President and Chief Executive Officer Doyle Simons said.
As we finish out the year and the summer home buying season slows, it’s likely these numbers will drop. It will be interesting to see the October numbers that reflect the government shutdown and what if any effect that will have on the market and confidence heading into the all important holiday buying season.
Some of Tuesday’s top stories:
New York Times
Obama official apologizes for balky insurance website, by Robert Pear
Why Apple wants to bust your iPhone, by Catherine Rampell
Consumer confidence in U.S. slumps by most since August 2011, by Ben Schenkel
Blackstone adds to biggest year for REIT IPOs since 2004, by Hui-yong Yu
Thomson Reuters cuts 3,000 jobs, stock rises, by Jennifer Saba
U.S. reports $9.7 billion loss on General Motors bailout, by Deepa Seetharaman
Are you paying more than your parents? by Steve Hargreaves
Obamacare application deadline delayed to March 31, by Gregory Wallace
Goldman Sachs tells its new employees to work less, by Seelah Kolhatkar
Today in business journalism
by Liz Hester
In one of the more closely watched technology earnings, Apple Inc. said Monday that profit for the fourth fiscal quarter dropped despite higher iPhone sales. Let’s take a look at the coverage.
The Wall Street Journal has a mostly positive lead, pointing out pricing and sales were stabilizing:
Apple Inc. reported a third consecutive quarter of declining profits, but showed signs that both prices and profit margins are stabilizing despite heightened competition for its iPhone and iPad.
The company said it sold 33.8 million iPhones in the fourth fiscal quarter, ended Sept. 28, up 26% from the same period a year earlier.
The average selling price of an iPhone declined 6.6% from a year earlier, but less than 1% from the preceding quarter.
Revenue from the iPhone rose 17% from a year earlier and represented more than half of Apple’s quarterly total of $37.5 billion, which was up 4.2% from a year earlier. Apple released two new iPhones near the end of the quarter instead of one as in past years.
Those sales couldn’t stem a third consecutive slide in profit from a year ago for the Cupertino, Calif., company. Profit fell nearly 9% to $7.5 billion.
The New York Times story reported that most other companies would be thrilled to earn $7.5 billion – over a lifetime:
Apple’s profit remains the envy of the tech industry — and most other industries. But the slowdown of its growth has become a concern for some investors. Apple is counting on new products to improve its bottom line, especially during the coming holiday season, the most lucrative time of year for hardware makers. In September, the company released two new iPhones, and last week, it introduced new Mac laptops and two new iPads, the company’s popular tablets.
On the earnings call, Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said: “It’s going to be an iPad Christmas.”
And there is little doubt that iPads will sell in huge quantities in the next quarter. But there is doubt about which iPads will sell best — the new iPad Air, which is the larger and more expensive model, or the iPad Mini.
The Mini has become a popular choice among consumers since it was first released last year. But the device has a smaller profit margin than its more expensive cousins, and its high sales may be part of the reason behind a 13 percent decline in overall iPad revenue.
That decline in revenue, combined with flat sales, is particularly troubling at a time when the tablet market is still young and growing quickly. Apple sold 14.1 million iPads over the quarter, up barely from 14 million in the quarter a year ago. That is far from the pace of the market: manufacturers are expected to ship 184.4 million tablets in 2013, up from 120 million last year, according to Gartner.
The Financial Times reported on comments made about cash allocation as activist investor Carl Icahn pushes for more buybacks:
Apple said more than $36bn had been returned to shareholders in the past five quarters through dividends and share buybacks, as the company comes under pressure from activist shareholder Carl Icahn to scale up its cash return programme to $150bn.
Mr Cook said the board was engaged in an “ongoing” discussion about capital reallocation, and would “actively seek” feedback from investors on its future plans. “We will announce any changes to our programme in the first part of the new calendar year,” he said.
Apple said that with more than three-quarters of its cash now held offshore, its domestic cash reserves that are available for paying dividends and buying back shares have “stopped accumulating”.
“We have invested essentially all of the increase in net cash since the beginning of our capital return programme in 2012,” said finance chief Peter Oppenheimer.
Apple gave guidance on revenues for the crucial Christmas quarter of $55bn to $57bn, ahead of Wall Street’s current expectations, but with gross margins of 36.5 per cent to 37.5 per cent, on the lower end of analysts’ expectations.
Its stock initially fell 4 per cent in after-hours trading but then recovered to gain as much as 1 per cent, as Apple explained that margins would be closer to 38.5 per cent if not for the deferred revenues from its software giveaway.
The Forbes headline said that earnings failed to impress but led with the fact that they beat analysts’ expectations:
After reporting earnings that topped analysts estimates on demand for the iPhone and a forecast for the holiday shopping season that disappointed investors, Apple CEO Tim said the company expects that redesigned iPads will help deliver an “iPad Christmas” and said it still expects to release products in new product categories.
“If you look at the skills Apple has from hardware, software and services and an incredible app ecosystem— these set of things are very, very unique,” Cook said today when asked about plans to enter new markets. “We obviously believe that we can use our skills in building other great products that are in categories that represent areas where we do not participate today.”
Apple is being pressed to step up the pace of innovation and roll out new products to fend off new offerings by rivals including Samsung and Google. So far this year, it’s updated its MacBook notebooks, iMac desktop, iPhone, iPad tablets, Mac Pro high-end workstation as well as the software that powers those devices and computers. That software, including the iOS 7 and Macintosh operating systems, and iLife and iWork apps, are now available free to customers, a move that Cook said is aimed at making sure users have the latest version of its programs.
And it’s that ability to innovate that investors are seeking, especially as companies look to holiday sales to boost numbers. Earnings may have been down, but they’re still strong and Apple has room to capture more market share. No matter how you look at it, $7.5 billion is a lot of money.
Some of Monday’s top stories:
New York Times
F.D.A. shift on painkillers was years in the making, by Barry Meier and Eric Lipton
Merck third-quarter profit beats estimate, but Januvia sales slump, by Ransdell Pierson
AMC Networks to buy Chellomedia from Liberty Global, by Soham Chatterjee
‘I was overpaid by Social Security,’ by Blake Ellis
Pandora at the crossroads, by Kevin Kelleher
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