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Closing Bell: Best Buy


CEO Kevin Sharer is on a mission to beef up Amgen's (AMGN) roster of potential blockbuster drugs. On Mar. 29, he announced the biotech giant would acquire rival Tularik (TLRK) for $1.3 billion in stock. The move came days after Amgen failed to wow Wall Street by unveiling details of its pipeline.

Tularik is developing several cancer drugs and has a promising diabetes treatment in clinical trials. Problem is, Tularik's most advanced drug candidate -- a liver cancer treatment -- isn't expected to be a big seller, and its other products aren't likely to hit the market before 2008. Analysts expect Amgen to post average annual earnings growth of at least 25% for the four years ending in 2005. But beyond that, the growth picture is murky.

Investors remain underwhelmed. Amgen shares barely budged from $58 in the two days following the Tularik news. "We're not yet out of the woods," Sharer admits. Still, the deal "is a very strong signal of our willingness to place a bet." Jeff Clarke has had some tough jobs, but his next one caps them all. On Apr. 1, he was named chief financial officer at software maker Computer Associates International (CA), whose accounting practices are under investigation by the Justice Dept. The former CFO, Ira Zar, was forced to resign after an internal probe turned up accounting misdeeds. Zar declines comment. Previously, Clarke was co-head of merger integration after Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) bought Compaq Computer (HPQ). He left HP in November, in what a press release characterized as a "mutually" agreed-upon resignation. Clarke's explanation: He didn't want to wait around to be CFO. Clarke, 42, says there's "great upside" at CA. On Mar. 29, Kathleen Corbet was named president of Standard & Poor's, the rating agency. Like BusinessWeek, S&P is owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP). Corbet was previously CEO of the fixed-income division at Alliance Capital. She succeeds Leo O'Neill, who is retiring from S&P after 36 years. S&P is McGraw-Hill's most profitable division, generating operating earnings of $667.6 million on $1.8 billion of revenue in 2003. During a 20-year career at Alliance and parent AXA Financial, Corbet ran a number of overseas divisions, at one time serving as chief of investment operations and global trading. As a member of Alliance's executive committee, she helped guide the firm's strategic planning and global growth. Before the tech stock bust and the corporate accounting scandals, it would have been folly for the Financial Accounting Standards Board to propose requiring companies to count the value of stock options against earnings. After all, the FASB tried that in 1994 and aroused so much opposition from executives and their allies in Congress that it probably would have been stripped of its authority had it not backed down. But on Mar. 31, FASB went ahead and posted a near-final draft of an expensing rule. This time, with an election looming and corporate scandals going to trial, fewer politicians will risk arguing for weaker accounting. The rule, expected to take effect in 2005, won't reduce reported earnings by more than 3%, according to Bear Stearns (BSC). The offshore gaming industry is betting a Mar. 24 ruling by the World Trade Organization will be good for business. The WTO found that U.S. attempts to restrict Internet gambling violate international agreements governing trade in services. That may set off a scramble for the Las Vegas-based industry to expand into Web-based gambling. If the WTO decision holds, worldwide Web-based gambling could see a threefold increase, says David Carruthers, CEO of Costa Rica-based BetonSports.com, which has 1.2 million U.S. customers. -- Textile maker Dan River (DVER) filed for bankruptcy protection.

-- Sony Electronics (SNE) has announced plans to sell its Vaio PCs and other products to the corporate market.

-- AT&T (T) rolled out Internet telephone service in parts of New Jersey and Texas. Best Buy (BBY) surged 7% on Mar. 31, to $51.72, after the electronics retailer rang up a 24% hike in fiscal fourth-quarter profits from continuing operations. Income was buoyed by a hefty 10% jump in same-store sales, driven by strong holiday demand for digital products.


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