Hewlett-Packard: A billion-dollar charge
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) took a $8.8 billion writedown after accusing Autonomy, the British software maker it bought last year, of falsifying finances. More than $5 billion of the charge is due to accounting problems disclosed by a senior executive at Autonomy. HP bought the software company for $10.3 billion to diversify away from PCs and printers. Autonomy allegedly misrepresented its gross profit margin and falsely created or miscategorized $200 million-plus in revenue over a two-year period starting in 2009, HP said. Autonomy’s former top management team denies the claims.
Government Contractors: Pay up or shut up
Companies that want to challenge a federal government contract award may have to start paying for the right to file a protest. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, which arbitrates contract disputes, is asking Congress to approve a $240 filing fee to fund an online docket system that would ease the strain on GAO staff, which now handles about 16,000 e-mails a year related to procurement. Protests have surged in recent years as budget cuts have led to fewer awards.
Governance: Dividends before a tax hike
Companies from Wynn Resorts (WYNN) to Tyson Foods (TSN) are paying special dividends at four times the pace of last year, helping investors stay a step ahead of tax rates poised to jump in 2013. From the end of September to mid-November, 59 companies in the Russell 3000 stock index declared a one-time cash payment to shareholders. Wal-Mart (WMT) is moving up a planned fourth-quarter dividend to Dec. 27 from Jan. 2. Congress is expected to increase the rate on dividends, lowered to 15 percent during the Bush administration.
Nintendo: Strong U.S. Debut for Wii U
On Nov. 19, Nintendo (NTDOY) nearly sold out its new Wii U gaming system, the Japanese company’s first new U.S. video game console since 2006. Nintendo went ahead with the launch despite delays to its TVii software, which lets users use the Wii U console to search for a specific TV show or movie across online providers such as Netflix (NFLX). Nintendo has ignored calls from analysts to stop making expensive hardware and focus on games based on its iconic Mario and Zelda characters for other companies’ tablets and smartphones.
Energy Traders: Facing new enforcement
U.S. regulators are increasingly exercising the policing powers gained after Enron’s 2001 collapse to fine some of the world’s biggest banks. On Nov. 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) right to trade power for six months in 2013. That’s after fining Barclays (BCS) $469.9 million and Deutsche Bank $1.6 million for manipulating energy trades in previous weeks. Barclays and Deutsche Bank (DB) say their trading was legal, and JPMorgan has apologized for what it has called inadvertent mistakes.