Carmakers: Another industry supply threat
A year after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami sent global automakers scrambling for parts, the industry faces a potentially serious disruption from another disaster. A March 31 explosion at German chemical maker Evonik Industries halved the global output of PA-12, an ingredient used to make a resin in brake and fuel lines. About 200 executives from major automobile manufacturers and suppliers met in Detroit on April 17 to find new sources of the resin. Securing alternatives quickly may be difficult because PA-12 is used in safety-related equipment such as brake systems. So any replacements would have to be tested before production.
Pharmaceuticals: A legal win for generic drugs
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that generic-drug makers have the right to challenge whether brand-name rivals overstate the reach of their patents. Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories argued that it could sue Novo Nordisk (NVO) for filing documents with the Food and Drug Administration that described Novo’s diabetes drug patent in ways that covered more uses than the patent allowed. Such descriptions are used by the FDA when evaluating requests by companies looking to make generic versions.
First Solar: Cutting a third of its workforce
First Solar (FSLR), the world’s largest thin-film panel maker, will cut 30 percent of its workforce, or about 2,000 jobs, in response to a slump in European demand. Most of the layoffs will be at a factory it’s closing in Germany and another plant in Malaysia, where First Solar is idling four production lines. The Arizona-based company’s thin-film technology is less expensive than the traditional polysilicon panels that are made mostly in China, but it also produces less energy. First Solar will pay $245 million to $370 million in severance and related costs.
U.S. Bancorp: Moving into mortgage servicing
U.S. Bancorp (USB) is expanding its mortgage operations as Bank of America (BAC) and other rivals have retreated from servicing home loans. The nation’s fifth-largest lender by deposits, U.S. Bancorp remained profitable during the financial crisis and has broadened its business of servicing mortgages on behalf of other lenders. It now handles billing and collection for more than $200 billion in loans, up 15 percent from the end of 2010. U.S. Bancorp’s mortgage banking business had revenue of $452 million in the first quarter of 2012.
Berkshire Hathaway: Buffett reveals he has cancer
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/A) Chairman Warren Buffett has been diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer that is “not remotely life-threatening,” the 81-year-old billionaire told investors in a letter. Buffett has been laying the groundwork for an eventual transition, telling shareholders recently that the board has a candidate for chief executive officer. He has said his son Howard will guard the company’s culture as non-executive chairman and has hired two former hedge fund managers to help oversee investments.