The upcoming film The Hulk isn't Vivendi Universal (V)'s only hot ticket. On June 15, the French conglomerate is expected to open bidding for its studio, theme park, and cable channels.
Liquor scion Edgar Bronfman Jr. says he intends to be among the bidders. "I put those assets together, I had them turned around and working, and I've got encouragement from the management," says Bronfman, who in 2000 sold his liquor and entertainment business to Vivendi for $33.6 billion.
Bronfman says Wachovia (WB) and Merrill Lynch (MER) are putting together financing, and Cablevision Systems (CVC) has agreed to an equity participation. But he faces other bids, including one from Liberty Media (L), whose chairman, John Malone, wants to make an offer with USA Interactive (USAI) Chairman Barry Diller. Viacom (VIA) Sumner Redstone also wants Vivendi's USA, Sci-Fi, and other cable channels. L.A. financier Marvin Davis has already bid $15 billion for a majority stake in the unit -- though Vivendi hinted that's too low. Like The Hulk, the action promises to be big, loud, and green. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman resigned May 21, citing a desire to return to New Jersey. While the former Garden State governor told her staff in an internal agency e-mail that she had "pride" in what she had accomplished, her tenure was marked by a series of incidents in which she butted heads with the Administration. The most memorable was a tiff with the White House over the merits of the Kyoto Protocol. Associates of Whitman say her resignation, rumored for months, was timed to occur before the Presidential campaign heats up this summer. With Whitman leaving, business would like to see Josephine Cooper, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, take over at EPA. Other potential replacements include former Michigan Governor John Engler and David Struhs, Florida's secretary of environmental protection. After a spate of adverse legal rulings, Big Tobacco can finally celebrate: On May 21, a Florida appeals court threw out a record $145 billion punitive award to hundreds of thousands of Florida smokers, saying the case shouldn't have been tried as a class action. What's more, the court said the jury award -- which represents 18 times the net worth of the five tobacco companies named -- was excessive. Even though the ruling won't create any precedents outside of Florida, legal experts say it still suggests that courts are starting to balk at awards which, if upheld, could bankrupt the industry. Tobacco stocks rallied on the news, with Altria (MO) Group's shares up 10%, to $38.30. McDonald's (MCD) can't seem to catch a break. Even as SARS is still keeping people out of its outlets in much of Asia, the fast-food giant now must deal with diners in Canada spooked by a confirmed case of mad cow disease. The May 20 report dinged McDonald's shares as well as stock in Wendy's and Outback Steakhouse. McDonald's stresses that it uses only federally inspected beef in Canada and that all burgers in its home market come from U.S. cattle. Still, the company might have reason to worry. It took Big Mac years to recover from meat scares in Europe. The new mad cow concerns also could stall the company's comeback plan, which rests on a return to its basic burger-and-fries menu. Drug stocks swooned on May 19 and 20 in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could put more pressure on pharmaceutical prices. The court removed an injunction that was blocking the state of Maine from implementing a controversial prescription-drug plan. Under it, Maine could pressure drugmakers to provide discounted products to uninsured residents. The high court did not rule on whether the Maine program was legal, however, and it could be struck down in future court decisions. Still, the outcome was a blow to the industry. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Carly Fiorina is drawing praise for her ability to cut costs. But can she turn the computing giant into a growth story? Investors got a glimmer of hope following HP's second-quarter results, announced on May 20. With $659 million in net earnings on $18 billion in sales, HP slightly beat analyst expectations. Investors reacted enthusiastically, bidding the stock up 6%, to $18. The bet: HP's slight improvements in enterprise computing and services could fuel some growth to accompany the $3.5 billion in costs that Fiorina has trimmed since HP's acquisition of Compaq a year ago. -- A U.S. investor group will buy all of DHL Airways' outstanding shares.
-- More than 190 countries approved the first international antismoking treaty.
-- American Airlines (AMR) unveiled $299 one-way, walk-up, coast-to-coast fares. Alcoa (AA) shares got a pop on May 21, rising 4% to $22.92, after J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) Michael Gambardella said the falling dollar should help the world's No.1 aluminum producer effectively raise prices outside the U.S. Also aiding Alcoa: a job-chopping restructuring program and low inventories.