CEO Brian Roberts on July 28 had good news for Comcast (CMCSA) shareholders, who were upset earlier this year by his failed hostile $54 billion bid for Walt Disney (DIS). Roberts announced the nation's No. 1 cable operator has authorized an additional $1 billion to buy back shares, bringing the total to $2 billion. Roberts, 45, is betting the move will boost the price of Comcast shares, which have fallen 12% on July 28, to $27.56, since the Feb. 11 bid.
Yet some investors remain concerned about Roberts' dependence on dealmaking to keep the Philadelphia cable company growing. They were spooked by the scuttled Disney deal and are wary of other possible acquisitions, including bankrupt Adelphia Communications (ADELQ). Still, it's not as if Comcast needs deals to grow: On July 28, it reported second-quarter operating income doubled from a year earlier, to $852 million. Roberts also raised Comcast's operating cash flow estimates for 2004 to $7.5 billion, an 18% jump over last year. That should cheer up shareholders a bit.
Time Warner (TWX) has launched an internal probe into accounting at AOL Europe covering a period in late 2000 when America Online struck a deal with Goldman Sachs (GS). The arrangement was reached just before the merger between AOL and Time Warner closed. As first reported by BusinessWeek, AOL arranged for Goldman to buy 1% of AOL Europe to reduce AOL's ownership below 50% and ease competition concerns by Europe's antitrust czar (BW -- June 28) about the Time Warner merger. But the deal also guaranteed a repurchase from Goldman at a preset price and date, which regulators may view as illegal asset-parking. AOL also may have violated securities laws by not disclosing the deal to investors. The Securities & Exchange Commission would not comment. Time Warner officials would not comment further. Goldman says it has done nothing wrong.
Crude oil soared to a record $42.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on July 28 as Russia's biggest oil exporter warned that it might be forced by the Russian government to halt production. Lawyers for Yukos said the embattled company had been prohibited by the Justice Ministry from selling property. It has asked the ministry to clarify whether "property" includes its oil. The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been moving toward selling Yukos in pieces to settle a $3.4 billion bill for back taxes. Putin's critics say that he's trying to punish Yukos' politically ambitious former CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The company's latest warning might be a way to rally support.
Despite ho-hum growth in telecom services overall, Verizon Communications (VZ)managed to blitz rivals. The nation's largest phone company said on July 27 that second quarter earnings hit $1.8 billion, up more than fivefold from $338 million a year ago. Revenues climbed 6% to $17.84 billion, outpacing SBC Communications' (SBC) 2.2% increase, to $12.8 billion, and BellSouth's (BLS) 1.6% rise to $6.7 billion. The wireless business led Verizon's charge, adding 1.5 million users in the quarter and boosting revenue 25%, to $6.85 billion.
Richard Miller resigned as chief financial officer of Cardinal Health (CAH) in the wake of questions about how the health-care giant classified its revenues. Considered a star finance exec when he became CFO in 1998, Miller came under pressure last fall when the SEC began an informal inquiry into Cardinal's handling of $22 million from vitamin manufacturers that overcharged the company. Miller's exit was coupled with the news that Cardinal will delay the release of its fiscal 2005 results. Cardinal revealed on June 30 that it received a subpoena from the SEC. It also cut its annual profit forecast.
-- Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen acquired Plains Resources for $460 million.
-- Four former execs of U.S. Foodservice (AHO) face securities-fraud charges.
-- Energizer (ENR) shares tumbled 12% on earnings that were below forecasts.
Shares of ImClone Systems (IMCL) have fallen 28%, to $58.52, since July 20 despite strong sales for Erbitux, its new colorectal cancer treatment. Analysts are afraid that royalty payouts may be higher than expected. Erbitux' $16,000-per-month price tag is also drawing fire.