News Archive


Strong prescription sales help Walgreen top profit estimates


(Reuters) – U.S. drugstore chain operator Walgreen Co (WAG.N) reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit, helped by a record number of prescriptions filled, sending its shares up 3.6 percent.

Cost savings resulting from its acquisition of the remaining stake in Alliance Boots Holdings Ltd [ABN.UL], Europe’s biggest pharmacy chain, also boosted first-quarter results.

The largest U.S. drug retailer also said it was on track to reach its target of $650 million in savings from the Alliance Boots deal in the fiscal year ending August 2015.

The company’s margins, however, continue to remain under pressure due to lower insurer payments for prescriptions amid increased competition and a rise in generic drug prices.

Gross margins decreased 1 percentage point to 27.1 percent in the first quarter ended Nov. 30, marking the fifth straight quarter of decline.

The combined cost savings for Walgreen and Alliance Boots in the quarter were about $140 million.

The company said in August it would acquire the 55 percent it did not already own in Alliance Boots in a deal valued at $15 billion.

The company said it filled a record 222 million prescriptions in the quarter ended Nov. 30, up 4.3 percent from a year ago.

Smaller rival Rite Aid Corp (RAD.N) also reported higher quarterly sales and profit and lifted its full-year earnings forecast last week, helped by strong prescription sales.

Net income attributable to Walgreen rose 16 percent to $809 million, or 85 cents per share. Excluding items, earnings were 81 cents per share in the first quarter.

Net sales rose 6.7 percent to $19.55 billion, with same-store sales rising 5.7 percent.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 75 cents per share on sales of $19.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Walgreen’s shares were trading at $76.90 before the bell on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Sruthi Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru and Nandita Bose in Chicago; Editing by Ted Kerr and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/ZM-S8DYsWOM/story01.htm

Thales CEO succession stalled as shareholders split: sources


PARIS (Reuters) – Thales’ (TCFP.PA) top shareholders are at odds over its plan for a dual leadership structure that may change their influence at the French defense electronics maker, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The disagreement between the French government, Thales’ top shareholder with 26 percent, and Dassault Aviation (AVMD.PA), which holds 25 percent, has prompted the company to postpone a board meeting scheduled for Monday, the sources said.

The board had been expected to replace outgoing chairman and chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy with former EDF (EDF.PA) boss Henri Proglio as non-executive chairman and Levy’s second-in-command Patrice Caine as CEO.

The arrival of Proglio and Caine would require changes to the composition of the board, with the French state calling on Dassault to give up one of its seats to make room for Proglio, the sources said.

Dassault is refusing, however, as the loss of one of its four seats would create an imbalance in the face of the government, which would keep five, one of the sources said. Thales’ board has 16 members in total.

“In a way, the fact there is a discussion on this precise point means that we’re starting again from scratch,” one of the sources said.

“There isn’t a discussion on the choice of Henri Proglio as such, but the problem of the composition of the board of directors could bring into question his nomination, and indirectly that of Patrice Caine.”

The issue may now not be resolved before January, the sources said.

The government and Dassault have been in talks for several weeks over the succession of Levy, who has resigned from Thales to run EDF, France’s top power firm. Thales named group secretary Philippe Logak as interim chairman and CEO in November.

Two sources close to the matter said on Sunday that Thales was set to name Proglio and Caine as Levy’s replacements following a board meeting at 1700 GMT on Monday but that talks between shareholders over the change to a dual leadership structure might delay the meeting.

The French government and Thales declined to comment. Dassault was not available for immediate comment.

(Editing by Jason Neely and Louise Heavens)

North Korea denies hacking Sony


SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea has said U.S. accusations that it was involved in a cyberattack on Sony Pictures were “groundless slander,” and that it wanted a joint investigation into the incident with the United States.

The United States stands by its assertion that North Korea was to blame, a White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman said on Saturday, in response to the remarks.

U.S. President Barack Obama had blamed North Korea for the devastating cyberattack on Sony, which had led to the Hollywood studio cancelling the imminent release of “The Interview,” a comedy on the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

An unnamed spokesman of North Korea’s foreign ministry said there would be serious consequences if Washington refused to agree to a joint probe and continued to accuse Pyongyang, according to the North Korean U.N. mission and its official KCNA news agency.

“We propose to conduct a joint investigation with the U.S. in response to groundless slander being perpetrated by the U.S. by mobilizing public opinion,” the North Korean spokesman was cited as saying by KCNA.

“If the U.S. refuses to accept our proposal for a joint investigation and continues to talk about some kind of response by dragging us into the case, it must remember there will be grave consequences,” the spokesman said.

NSC spokesman Mark Stroh dismissed this, saying: “We are confident the North Korean government is responsible for this destructive attack. We stand by this conclusion.”

“The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions,” he added.

Obama said North Korea appeared to have acted alone. Washington began consultations with Japan, China, South Korea, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK seeking their assistance in reining in North Korea.

Japan and South Korea said they would cooperate. China, North Korea’s only major ally, has yet to respond, but a Beijing-run newspaper said “The Interview” was not a movie for Hollywood or U.S. society to be proud of.

An Obama administration official said on Saturday: “In our cybersecurity discussions, both China and the United States have expressed the view that conducting destructive attacks in cyberspace is outside the norms of appropriate cyber behavior.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a statement on Sunday condemning the attack. “Cyberattacks such as these threaten a strong and prosperous economy and undermine our way of life,” he said.

It was the first time the United States had directly accused another country of a cyberattack of such magnitude on American soil and set up a possible new confrontation between longtime foes Washington and Pyongyang.

Obama said he wished that Sony had spoken to him first before yanking the movie, suggesting it could set a bad precedent. “I think they made a mistake,” he said.

“NOT CAVED IN”

Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton insisted the company did not capitulate to hackers and said it was still looking for alternative platforms to release “The Interview.” Earlier, a spokeswoman for Sony had said the company did not have further release plans for the $44 million film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Despite Obama’s stern warning to North Korea, his options for responding to the attack by the impoverished state appeared limited. The president declined to be specific about any actions under consideration.

North Korea has been subject to U.S. sanctions for more than 50 years, but they have had little effect on its human rights policies or its development of nuclear weapons. It has become expert in hiding its often criminal money-raising activities, largely avoiding traditional banks.

In a separate statement on Saturday in response to criticism of its rights record, North Korea vowed to boost its “nuclear power” to counter Washington’s hostile policy, saying it had become apparent the United States aimed to invade the North under the guise of human rights abuses.

The FBI said technical analysis of malicious software used in the Sony attack found links to malware that “North Korean actors” had developed and found a “significant overlap” with “other malicious cyber activity” previously tied to Pyongyang.

But it otherwise gave scant details on how it concluded that North Korea was behind the attack.

U.S. experts say Obama’s options could include cyber retaliation, financial sanctions, criminal indictments against individuals implicated in the attack or even a boost in U.S. military support to South Korea, still technically at war with the North.

But the effect of any response would be limited given North Korea’s isolation and the fact that it is already heavily sanctioned for its nuclear program.

There is also the risk that an overly harsh U.S. response could provoke Pyongyang to escalate any cyber warfare.

Non-conventional capabilities such as cyber warfare and nuclear technology are the weapons of choice for the impoverished North, defectors said in Seoul.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey, David Chance, Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Ju-min Park in Seoul and Julia Edwards in Honolulu.; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Crispian Balmer, G Crosse, Frances Kerry and Andrew Hay)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/X75lZ7ZYP3w/story01.htm

Capital hike, asset sales to fill gap at Monte Paschi: chairman


VIENNA (Reuters) – Italian lender Monte dei Paschi di Siena expects to complete its planned capital increase by July and can use divestments to help plug a hole in its balance sheet, Chairman Alessandro Profumo told an Austrian newspaper.

Monte Paschi needs to shore up its capital base following this year’s euro zone health check of European banks. It plans a cash call of up to 2.5 billion euros ($3.06 billion) next year.

Asked by Der Standard in an interview in its weekend edition what the plan was to fill the gap, he said this had not been officially announced but added: “It consists of the capital increase but also the sale of assets.”

A consortium comprised of UBS, Citibank, Mediobanca, Goldman Sachs and other foreign institutions is getting the standard 3 percent fee for handling the capital increase, he said, adding it “should be completed by July 2015 at the latest”.

Profumo said the bank was not seeking to extend to 2017 the repayment of the last 1 billion euros of state aid it has yet to pay back. He said this would happen after the capital increase.

Asked about talk a Chinese investor was ready to buy into

Monte dei Paschi, he said: “If there is something to report, we will do that. We are not currently conducting any negotiations.”

He said bad loans would weigh on the bank again next year.

“The volume of non-performing loans is still quite high, the provisions for these as well. Since we are the bank of small and mid-sized companies in Italy, which are suffering most from the crisis, non-performing loans will hit us also in 2015,” he said.

($1 = 0.8179 euros)

(Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Jason Neely)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/yhJ-8YZo4VE/story01.htm

Last U.S. holiday shopping weekend off to solid start


CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Shoppers filled up malls and department stores on the last weekend before Christmas, as the weather cooperated to help raise the prospect of a solid finish to a holiday season that has so far produced mixed results.

Crowds were building at stores in and around New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles by midday on Saturday. Some shoppers said they were drawn by the discounts, which have been deeper and lasted longer this year. Others said they felt more inclined to spend because of lower prices at the gas pumps.

Alexis Layne, a 53-year-old retired schoolteacher shopping at a mall in downtown Chicago, said she usually buys only “fun stuff like accessories” the weekend before Christmas but had made a few impulse buys like two Lacoste T-shirts for her husband because the deals were too good to pass up.

Ramesh Swamy, a retail analyst at Deloitte, said retailers were anticipating a strong weekend of sales. One of the malls he visited in the Los Angeles area was preparing overflow parking spaces, and he saw some retailers restocking shelves.

“I think folks are willing to open up their purse a little bit more this year,” he said, pointing to lower gas prices and solid corporate profits as supporting factors. “It should be a pretty good day.”

Retailers are banking on big sales this weekend to help make up for a spotty performance so far, including a disappointing “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving that typically ranks as the busiest shopping day of the year.

ShopperTrak, which surveys traffic at bricks-and-mortar stores, expects today – called “Super Saturday” by retailers because of its importance to sales – to surpass Black Friday as the top revenue-generating day of 2014.

According to the National Retail Federation, retail sales rose an unadjusted 3.2 percent in November, trending below its holiday forecast for 4.1 percent during November and December combined. Its chief economist said the forecast was still achievable, with a strong December to pick up the slack.

Aside from pockets of rain in Georgia and South Carolina and parts of the Pacific Northwest, weather conditions were generally good with temperatures cold enough in the East to spur sales of sweaters and other winter goods, said Evan Gold, a senior vice president at Planalytics, which advises companies on how weather conditions impact business.

“I think it should be a strong day,” he said.

JC Penney’s flagship store in Manhattan was starting to fill up by midday, after a slow start. Annette Rozzo was one of three shoppers waiting when the doors opened at 7 a.m. With a coupon for 60 percent off clothing, she purchased six sets of pajamas and said she was planning to pick up toys from the Disney movie “Frozen” for the kids. The deals were better than 2013, she said, and she would “definitely” spend more than last year.

Some analysts have warned that retailers are pushing sales at the expense of margins. Many launched deep discounts right after Halloween and have kept them all the way through. Price cuts for apparel have been especially steep.

Emma Clement, 37, said she felt she was still getting great deals even though she left the bulk of her holiday shopping to the final weekend as she was busy traveling for work.

“Have you seen some of the deals today? They are hard to beat,” she said after seeing discounts of up to 70 percent on designer clothing at a Macy’s in the Chicago area mall. “Most stores are offering over 50 percent off.”

(reporting by Samantha Sunne in New York; Nandita Bose and Nathan Layne in Chicago; editing by Gunna Dickson)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/Gjpk52TTg3o/story01.htm

North Korea denies hacking Sony, U.S. stands by its assertion


SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea said on Saturday U.S. accusations that it was involved in a cyberattack on Sony Pictures were “groundless slander,” and that it wanted a joint investigation into the incident with the United States.

An unnamed spokesman of North Korea’s foreign ministry said there would be serious consequences if Washington refused to agree to the probe and continued to accuse Pyongyang, according to the North Korean U.N. mission and its official KCNA news agency.

The United States stands by its assertion that North Korea was to blame, a White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman said on Saturday, in response to the remarks.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama blamed North Korea for the devastating cyberattack, which had led to the Hollywood studio cancelling the imminent release of “The Interview,” a comedy on the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In its first substantive response, the isolated North Korea said it could prove it had nothing to do with the hacking attack.

“We propose to conduct a joint investigation with the U.S. in response to groundless slander being perpetrated by the U.S. by mobilizing public opinion,” the North Korean spokesman was cited as saying by KCNA.

“If the U.S. refuses to accept our proposal for a joint investigation and continues to talk about some kind of response by dragging us into the case, it must remember there will be grave consequences,” the spokesman said.

The North Korean spokesman was quoted as making similar remarks in a statement issued later by North Korea’s U.N. mission.

NSC spokesman Mark Stroh dismissed this, saying: “We are confident the North Korean government is responsible for this destructive attack. We stand by this conclusion.”

“The government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions,” he added.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Friday it had determined that North Korea was behind the hacking of Sony, saying Pyongyang’s actions fell “outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior.”

Obama said North Korea appeared to have acted alone. Washington began consultations with Japan, China, South Korea and Russia seeking their assistance in reining in North Korea.

Japan and South Korea said they would cooperate. China, North Korea’s only major ally, has yet to respond, but a Beijing-run newspaper said “The Interview” was not a movie for Hollywood or U.S. society to be proud of.

An Obama administration official said on Saturday: “In our cybersecurity discussions, both China and the United States have expressed the view that conducting destructive attacks in cyberspace is outside the norms of appropriate cyber behavior.”

It was the first time the United States had directly accused another country of a cyberattack of such magnitude on American soil and set up a possible new confrontation between longtime foes Washington and Pyongyang.

Obama said he wished that Sony had spoken to him first before yanking the movie, suggesting it could set a bad precedent. “I think they made a mistake,” he said.

“NOT CAVED IN”

Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton insisted the company did not capitulate to hackers and said it was still looking for alternative platforms to release “The Interview.” This week, a spokeswoman for Sony had said the company did not have further release plans for the $44 million film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Despite Obama’s stern warning to North Korea, his options for responding to the attack by the impoverished state appeared limited. The president declined to be specific about any actions under consideration.

North Korea has been subject to U.S. sanctions for more than 50 years, but they have had little effect on its human rights policies or its development of nuclear weapons. It has become expert in hiding its often criminal money-raising activities, largely avoiding traditional banks.

In a separate statement on Saturday in response to criticism of its rights record, North Korea vowed to boost its “nuclear power” to counter Washington’s hostile policy, saying it had become apparent the United States aimed to invade the North under the guise of human rights abuses.

The FBI said technical analysis of malicious software used in the Sony attack found links to malware that “North Korean actors” had developed and found a “significant overlap” with “other malicious cyber activity” previously tied to Pyongyang.

But it otherwise gave scant details on how it concluded that North Korea was behind the attack.

U.S. experts say Obama’s options could include cyber retaliation, financial sanctions, criminal indictments against individuals implicated in the attack or even a boost in U.S. military support to South Korea, still technically at war with the North.

But the effect of any response would be limited given North Korea’s isolation and the fact that it is already heavily sanctioned for its nuclear program.

There is also the risk that an overly harsh U.S. response could provoke Pyongyang to escalate any cyber warfare.

Non-conventional capabilities such as cyber warfare and nuclear technology are the weapons of choice for the impoverished North, defectors said in Seoul.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey, David Chance, Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Ju-min Park in Seoul and Julia Edwards in Hawaii; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Crispian Balmer, G Crosse and Frances Kerry)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/qIWb3VHUjCk/story01.htm

ECB’s Coene supports government bond purchases: newspaper


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Central Bank should start buying government bonds to tackle poor investor confidence and low inflation in the euro zone, governing council member Luc Coene said in an interview published on Saturday.

The Belgian central bank chief said the bank had already waited too long, and that this could be one tool to spur economic activity in the 18-country euro zone and fight off deflationary pressures.

“In this context, the purchase of sovereign bonds could prove to be an effective tool,” he told La Libre Belgique.

“Since the beginning of 2014, we have systematically underestimated deflationary effects…if we were to find ourselves at the beginning of next year with negative inflation and fall into a deflationary spiral, the effects on the behavior of households and businesses could be very negative.”

Inflation in the single currency area was 0.3 percent year-on-year in November, well below the ECB’s headline target of inflation below, but close to 2 percent.

The ECB Governing Council will hold its next policy meeting on Jan. 22.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/XG_1yKHBWXM/story01.htm

DISH, Comcast SportsNet reach deal in regional dispute


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Satellite TV provider DISH Network Corp and Comcast Corp’s SportsNet have reached a deal allowing the cable giant’s regional sports networks to remain on-air for DISH subscribers, the two companies said on Saturday.

The two pay-TV companies have been in negotiations over whether DISH would drop Comcast’s regional sports network, threatening access to televised games for satellite-TV customers in the Chicago, San Francisco and Washington areas.

“DISH has reached a multi-year agreement for carriage of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, California, Chicago and Mid-Atlantic,” the satellite provider said in a statement.

The company did not disclose terms of the agreement.

Comcast SportsNet is part of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, and DISH must pay fees in order to carry it.

A representative for NBCUniversal said in an email: “Yes, confirming that we have reached an agreement with DISH on behalf of CSN Mid-Atlantic, CSN Chicago, CSN Bay Area and CSN California.”

DISH has blamed increased fees in the dispute and said most of its customers do not watch NBC’s sports channels. DISH has roughly 14 million subscribers, according to the company.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Stephen Powell and Gunna Dickson)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/PdYU1alIpu8/story01.htm

Three air-bag accidents at Boeing plant lead to extra safety measures


SEATTLE (Reuters) – Workers at planemaker Boeing’s (BA.N) Everett plant near Seattle are following extra safety measures after three air bag-related accidents, including the death of a technician last month, the company said on Friday.

No one was seriously hurt when an air bag deployed on Dec. 13 as a seat supplier technician was working on a Zodiac Aerospace seat on a plane being readied for delivery, Boeing spokesman Wilson Chow said.

“We understand that employees are concerned,” Chow said, adding the company was holding meetings with workers and was implementing additional safeguards and inspections.

“We are confident the system is safe to work on and to be around, and the seat-belt air bag poses no risk to the flying public,” Chow said.

The accidental discharge of a seat-belt airbag happened because a bent connector pin caused a short circuit, he said.

Chow confirmed a third incident but could not provide specifics, such as injuries or cause.

A technician for aircraft interior supplier Jamco America died after being struck in the face when a passenger seat air-bag inflator discharged while he and another technician from a different supplier were working on a 777 on Nov. 13, the Seattle Times newspaper reported.

A source who declined to be named said that workers were now following extra safety measures, including using caution tape to cordon off the seats. 

The Dec. 13 incident involved an actual air bag deployment, Chow said, while the Nov. 13 incident happened as the system was partially assembled.

“There is widespread concern,” Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for International Association of Machinists, District Lodge 751, told the newspaper. “We are actively involved and working to ensure our members concerns are addressed.”

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott in New York and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Jeremy Laurence)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/C3SrfGvwGsU/story01.htm