Markets & Finance

Microsoft Faces EU Fine


European Union Competition Commissioner Mario Monti says settlement talks in Microsoft's (MSFT) antitrust case have broken down. Monti will propose a fine to be levied on Microsoft to the commission on Mar. 24.

Fortune Brands (FO)sees first quarter earnings per share above the 76 cents to 81 cents consensus. The company is confident it will achieve its long-term growth goals and improve returns. S&P and Roth Capital each reiterated their buy opinions.

Mastec (MTZ) shares were sharply lower in Thursday's session. Late Wednesday, S&P Ratings put the company's credit on watch with negtive implications. The move follows Mastec's Mar. 10 announcement that its 10-K would be delayed.

As the result of a review, Shell Transport & Trading (SC) will recategorize 250 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) of reserves as at the end of 2002; it will reduce volume proved reserves planned to book in 2003 by about 220 million boe. The 2003 Annual Reports for both parent companies of the Royal Dutch/Shell group -- of which Royal Dutch Petroleum (RD

is the other -- are expected in late May.

Jabil Circuit (JBL) posted second quarter earnings per share (GAAP) of 19 cents, vs. 5 cents one year earlier, on a 30% revenue rise. It sees earnings per share of 21 cents to 23 cents for the third quarter and 83 cents to 87 cents for all of fiscal 2004. Schwab SoundView upped its rating to outperform from neutral. S&P reiterates accumulate.

CSG Systems (CSGS) signed a new contract with Comcast Cable. CSG says it will continue to support Comcast's video, high-speed Internet subcribers at least through Dec. 31, 2008. CIBC World and Deutsche Bank each upgraded the stock. S&P keeps its avoid opinion.

Williams-Sonoma (WSM) posted fourth quarter earnings per share of 85 cents, vs. 67 cents, on a 4.1% same-store sales rise and a 17% total revenue rise. The retailer set fiscal 2005 guidance for $3.101 billion to $3.173 billion in revenues, 2% to 4% same-store sales growth, and $1.52 to $1.56 earnings per share.

Herman Miller (MLHR) posted third quarter earnings per share of 11 cents, vs. 4 cents, on a 6.2% sales rise. The company sees fourth quarter earnings per share of 10 cents to 15 cents on sales of $335 million to $355 million. Raymond James says the guidance was lower than expected. S&P keeps holdS&P keeps its hold recommendation.

Planar Systems (PLNR) sees second quarter earnings per share of 5 cents to 10 cents. Planar cites higher than expected costs in its medical business unit, shortfalls apparent in its commercial business unit, and an unusual item relating to an investment. AG Edwards cut its estimates.

Allstream (ALLSB) agreed to be acquired by Manitoba Telecom Services a in deal valued at $1.7 billion. Terms: $23 cash plus 1.0909 Manitoba share for each Allstream share held.

Florida Banks (FLBK) agreed to be acquired by South Financial Group (TSFG) in an all-stock transaction. Terms: 0.77 South Financial share for each Florida Banks share.

First Albany upgraded Chicago Bridge & Iron (CBI) to strong buy from buy. The company was unavailable for comment.

Morgan Stanley downgraded Avici Systems (AVCI) to underweight from equal-weight.

Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) president Jerry Deitchle resigned to take a similar post at a privately held casual dining restaurant company. Cheesecake also reported about a 5% increase in same-store sales so far in the first quarter. CIBC says sales were below Street expectations.

Masco (MAS) raised its 36 cents to 38 cents first quarter earnings per share guidance from continuing operations to 42 cents to 44 cents (including incremental income of about 3 cents from financial assets).

Morgan Stanley (MWD) posted first quarter earnings per share of $1.11, vs. 82 cents, on 14% higher net revenue.

Banc of America downgraded Newell Rubbermaid (NWL) to sell from neutral and cut its $22 price target to $19.

Morgan Stanley upgraded Microchip Technology (MCHP) to overweight from equal-weight.

Kmart Holding (KMRT) posted fourth quarter earnings per share of $2.78 (for the successor company), vs. a $1.61 loss (by the predecessor company) as lower expenses offset 26% lower sales.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) posted third quarter earnings per share of 46 cents, vs. 35 cents, on a 5.1% total sales rise. The company notes same-store sales at Olive Garden rose 5.4%, but fell 5.1% at Red Lobster.

Invision Technologies (INVN) confirms contact by SEC on the nature and timing of purchase of call options of its common stock prior to the Mar. 15 announcement that General Electric (GE) had agreed to acquire Invision in an all-cash deal valued at about $900 million, or $50 per share.


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