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Closing Bell: Costco Wholesale


The furor over Royal Dutch/Shell Group's (RD) downgrade of its oil and gas reserves in January has claimed scalps at the world's third-largest oil company. On Mar. 3, Shell's board ousted group Chairman Philip Watts, 58, and his heir apparent, exploration and production chief Walter van de Vijver, 48. A Shell spokesman said the move followed a probe by the board's group audit committee "into the facts and circumstances surrounding the recategorization" of some 20%, or 3.9 billion barrels, of reserves. A large chunk of those reserves was booked during Watts' tenure as head of E&P from 1997 to 2001. The Securities & Exchange Commission is investigating Shell's reserve reporting. Watts' successor is Jeroen van der Veer, president of Royal Dutch Petroleum, a Netherlands-based company that controls 60% of the group. London-based Shell Transport & Trading (SC) has 40%. Investors hope that van der Veer will streamline the company's cumbersome ownership structure, which hampers decision-making. Upping the stakes in its battle over the use of Unix software code, SCO Group (SCOX) has filed intellectual-property suits against two users of the open software package Linux: AutoZone (AZO) and DaimlerChrysler (DCX). Software maker SCO claims ownership of the basic technology in the Unix operating system, and says Unix code has been included in Linux. SCO's suit against Daimler claims the carmaker violated its contract by refusing to certify that it was not misusing SCO's Unix technology. The suit against auto-parts seller AutoZone alleges that it is violating SCO's copyrights by using Linux. AutoZone could not be reached for comment, and DaimlerChrysler declined comment. SCO's charges have not slowed down the adoption of Linux yet, but analysts are waiting to see if the suits change that. SCO shares fell 14%, to $11.59, on Mar. 3, after a decline in quarterly revenues. Charles "Chuck" Hill, the respected director of research at Thomson First Call, is leaving the stock research firm following a restructuring by parent Thomson Financial. According to Hill, the departure wasn't his choice. Michael Thompson, formerly of Riskmetrics Group, will take over Hill's role, in addition to overseeing other Thomson research. "Chuck has been a valuable contributor in building the First Call franchise," said Sarah Dunn, Thomson's chief content officer. Hill, 66, who joined First Call in 1992, has long been the firm's public face. He testified on Capitol Hill regarding Enron, analyst pay, and other issues. "I hope I've played a teensy role in getting the investment profession back to being an honorable one," says Hill. Though U.S. auto sales rose only a lackluster 4.8% in February from a year earlier, Nissan Motor (NSANY) streaked to a blistering 46% for the month. Nissan's share of the U.S. auto market climbed to 5.9% from 4.2% a year ago. The gain was fueled by the revamped Quest minivan and two models Nissan didn't have in the 2003 model year: the Armada sport-utility vehicle and Titan full-size pickup. The good news for Nissan is that it achieved the gain with about half the incentives -- roughly $1,500 per vehicle -- offered by Mitsubishi Motors, whose sales fell 19%. After years of bulking up its portions, McDonald's (MCD) is cutting back. The No. 1 burger chain will quit selling Super Size french fries and beverages as part of its new "healthy lifestyle initiative." McDonald's has been attacked for dishing out high-calorie food in megaportions. Indeed, in a new documentary, Super Size Me, the filmmaker eats nothing but McDonald's food for a month and gains 25 pounds. The doomed 7-oz. Super Size fries contain 610 calories. By yearend, the biggest size will weigh an ounce less and run a mere 540 calories. -- Lockheed Martin (LMT) President Robert Stevens will become CEO in August.

-- An appeals panel rejected FCC rules forcing the Baby Bells to lease their networks to rivals at a discount.

-- California voters approved a $15 billion bond to bail out state finances. Despite strong revenues and a 23.1% profit gain in the latest quarter, Costco Wholesale (COST) shares slid 4%, to $38.31, on Mar. 3. Investors fear the end of the grocery strike in California could slow growth, and continued cost cuts won't come fast enough to bolster margins.


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