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Closing Bell: XM Satellite Radio


Not long after Neville Isdell came out of retirement last May to become CEO of Coca-Cola, he set off on a whirlwind world tour of Coke's far-flung operations. On Mar. 23, the outcome of Isdell's trip became evident with a restructuring that does everything from beefing up Coke's marketing to splitting the key European and Asian regions into smaller groups.

As part of the shuffle, Asia chief Mary Minnick gets a job overseeing both marketing and new product development in Asia. Isdell recruited French bottling exec Dominique Reiniche to oversee European operations. And he brought back Coke alum Muhtar Kent to oversee one of the restructured Asia divisions.

Now that Isdell is surrounded by a band of loyalists, perhaps he can avoid the internecine warfare that undermined his two predecessors, Doug Ivester and Doug Daft. "He's building a team that's going to be loyal to the leader," says a former executive. "Given the recent history at Coke, that's a good thing."

General Motors (GM) may not be planning any big restructuring moves yet, but it's watching weaker divisions like Pontiac and Buick, company Vice- Chairman Robert Lutz said at a Mar. 23 conference sponsored by Morgan Stanley (MWD). "Over time, if one troubled brand fails to turn around, we would have to take a closer look at phasing it out," Lutz said. He added: "We're hoping not to do that." Still, GM is looking to cut costs, and fast. And it's becoming clear that it wants help from the United Auto Workers. One idea: asking hourly workers to pay more of this year's estimated $5.6 billion health-care bill. "There is a range of things we can do to work on health-care costs," GM-North America President Gary Cowger said in an interview on Mar. 23.

Viacom's (VIA) beleagured Paramount Pictures unit is in final talks to nab Fox (FOX) network chief Gail Berman, in a coup for Viacom Co-President Tom Freston, who wants to overhaul the studio. Berman, the network executive behind such Fox hits American Idol and 24, is likely to be named Paramount president. She'll report to onetime talent manager and TV producer Brad Grey, named studio chief in January. With the two TV executives at the helm of Paramount, Viacom hopes to bring more youth-oriented entertainment to the studio, which has recently released such bombs as The Stepford Wives and Alfie.

The Securities & Exchange Commission's crackdown on misleading mutual-fund sales isn't over yet. On Mar. 23, Putnam Investment Management and Citigroup Global Markets (C) agreed to settle separate charges that they failed to disclose payments linked to promoting funds. Putnam, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. (MMC), agreed to pay $40 million without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Citigroup, which also did not admit or deny the charges, agreed to pay $20 million. The SEC contended that Putnam struck marketing deals with brokerage firms to promote its funds and in exchange steered trades to them but failed to adequately disclose the arrangements. The SEC alleged that Citigroup failed to fully disclose extra payments it got for giving preferred treatment to 75 mutual-fund groups.

Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) won a skirmish in their efforts to fight off generic challenges to their jointly marketed stroke treatment Plavix, the third-best-selling drug in the world. A Canadian court ruled on Mar. 22 that a knockoff of the drug by Toronto's Apotex would violate Plavix' patent, due to expire in 2012. A similar suit, filed by Apotex and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories of India, is pending in New York, and analysts speculate that the Canadian victory could bode well for Sanofi's case in the U.S.

-- A Dubai private equity firm bought waxwork museums owner Tussauds Group for $1.51 billion.

-- Social Security trustees say the fund will start shrinking in 2017, earlier than expected.

-- Higher oil prices could add up to $1 billion to Delta Air Lines' (DAL) costs, its CEO said.

XM Satellite Radio (XMSR) shares jumped 8.6% on Mar. 23, to $30.45, on the news that Hyundai Motor America will be the first auto maker to install XM radios as standard equipment in its 2006 models. Rival Sirius Satellite Radio (SIRI) also rose, by 2.7%, to $5.42, on its own deals.


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