While he was half a world away at News Corp.'s (NWS) annual meeting in Australia, Rupert Murdoch was on a roll in the U.S. Not only did the News Corp. chairman win a battle to control Gemstar-TV Guide International, he may get another shot at creating a U.S. satellite service for his Fox news, sports, and entertainment empire.
At his 42%-owned Gemstar, Murdoch forced out founder Henry Yuen, who resigned as CEO after months of pressure. Murdoch named Jeff Shell, Gemstar COO and a former News Corp. executive, as CEO of the company, which holds key TV patents and publishes TV Guide.
Murdoch's bid to control Hughes Electronics' (GMH) DirecTV satellite service may take longer. Intense News Corp. lobbying has weakened chances of EchoStar Communications' planned $16.9 billion merger with Hughes.
Should the deal fail, Murdoch, who spent 18 months trying to buy DirecTV before giving up last year, has said he might bid again. To get ready, News Corp. has slashed spending, reduced debt, and added nearly $3 billion in cash. West Coast ports reopened late on Oct. 9 after President George W. Bush invoked the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, saying the port closures would have a "crippling effect on the national economy." A federal judge ordered an 80-day cooling-off period that halted the shippers' lockout of 10,500 longshoremen. The move ended an 11-day shutdown of 29 West Coast ports, which has left retail goods, food items, and manufacturing parts stranded on docks or on container ships offshore. Break out the chips and soda: PepsiCo (PEP) had a quarter worth celebrating. On Oct. 8, the company announced that the combination of strong results in all its businesses and the synergies from its Quaker Foods merger helped send third-quarter earnings per share up 14%. The gains beat Wall Street estimates, and by the end of the day Pepsi shares had risen 15%, to close at $41.40. Management also laid to rest fears that snackmaker Frito-Lay, the company's largest profit engine, had been struggling. The unit ended a price promotion on Labor Day but was still able to post a 4% increase in sales and gain market share. CEO Steven Reinemund credited PepsiCo's strong margins to a basketful of new products that range from berry-flavored Pepsi Blue to Quaker Fruit & Oatmeal Bites. The ax is falling at Abbott Laboratories (ABT). On Oct. 8, the health-care company announced it was taking an aftertax charge of up to $125 million for a restructuring that will include the elimination of some 2,000 jobs. Abbott, which has been plagued by run-ins with the Food & Drug Administration over manufacturing problems, will also invest $450 million over the several years to expand existing manufacturing facilities and build new ones. The company needs to bulk up manufacturing ahead of next year's launch of a potential blockbuster arthritis drug. Driven by strong sales of bras and breakfast meats, CEO and Chairman C. Steven McMillan on Oct. 9 raised projections for Sara Lee (SLE). Operating income is expected to increase by more than 20% in the current quarter and by more than 15% for the fiscal year ending June, 2003, compared with the year-earlier period. Sara Lee, an $18 billion consumer-products company, attributed part of the gain to brisk sales of women's bras like Bali, Hanes Her Way, Playtex, and Wonderbra. The launch of the Jimmy Dean Fresh Taste Fast! line of breakfast meats helped as well. McMillan also expects to see big gains from a restructuring program that has resulted in 25% of the company being sold. Since the program began in mid-2000, the meat business has slimmed down from 10 businesses to one. Sara Lee is also realizing savings from the layoffs of 20,000 workers, mainly in apparel. Sears Roebuck (S) warned on Oct. 7 that third-quarter profits would be a few cents shy of the 86 cents a share that Wall Street analysts are anticipating and that it expects its key credit-card business to weaken with the economy. Credit--which accounts for 70% of the retailer's profits--has been the bright spot for CEO Alan Lacy, who is trying to reverse declining retail sales while cutting store operating costs. Sears said it would still meet its annual forecast as cost-cutting lifts store profits, compensating for the slowdown in credit. But cost reductions can't sustain earnings growth for long. -- Just 8% of 120 companies plan to expense options next year, says Deloitte & Touche.
-- Moody's Investors Service cut J.P. Morgan Chase's (JPM) long-term debt ratings.
-- The U.S. Attorney in New Jersey is investigating whether Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) was stuffing wholesalers' inventories. Investor anxiety about the pace of Ford Motor's (F) turnaround sent its shares plunging 16%, to a 10-year low of $7.15, in the two trading days ended Oct. 9. Wall Street is afraid that auto sales are declining, and analysts worry that Ford's credit will be downgraded, though this was denied by the rating agencies.