TYLER MATHISEN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: Mega media deal. The nation`s largest cable operator, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS), wants to get even bigger. It plans to buy number two, Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) Cable. Why? And what does it mean for consumers? And what will the regulators say?
SUE HERERA, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR: Frozen spending.
Shoppers stayed home last month, causing retail sales to drop — a key measure of economic activity. How much is due to the weather? And is it cause for concern?
MATHISEN: And Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) skids. Shares slump as the maker of networking gear faces fresh questions over whether its turnaround strategy is working.
All that and more tonight on NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for Thursday, February 13th.
Good evening, everybody. I`m Tyler Mathisen.
HERERA: And Susie Gharib has the night off.
MATHISEN: She does. Welcome.
HERERA: I`m in for Susie. Thank you.
We begin this evening with a megamerger in the media world — a $45 billion deal that would combine the nation`s two largest cable TV providers, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) and Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) Cable. Now, if approved, the company would have 33 million customers, nearly one out of every three cable households in the U.S. and become a dominant force in creating and delivering TV content.
The all-stock offer would give Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) Cable shareholders nearly $159 a share. Pretty big premium over the stock`s closing price today of $144.81.
Julia Boorstin has more on today`s deal and what it means to both companies and what it could mean for cable customers.
JULIA BOORSTIN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) acquisition of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) Cable, if it`s approved, would create a cable and broadband Internet giant with nation-wide reach. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) saying the deal will pay off and start generating money in year one, in part because it will have operating efficiencies of $1.5 billion.
AMY YONG, MACQUARIE RESEARCH VP: Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) buying Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) Cable gives them a huge nationwide footprint to increase (ph) competition, get some significant scale to rollout broadband, increase broadband adoption, and obviously provide a much better product for the average American consumer.
BOORSTIN: But consumer concerns will be under the microscope when the FCC evaluates the deal. Consumer advocacy group Free Press rejecting the deal, warning in a statement that, quote, “Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)
(NYSE:CCS) will have unprecedented market power over consumers and an unprecedented ability to exert its influence over any channels or businesses that want to reach Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) customers.”
But Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) says the deal will not affect consumer options.
BRIAN ROBERTS, COMCAST: We don`t compete. We`re not in the same markets. Not in any of the same zip codes with Time Warner (NYSE:TWX).
There`s no overlap. There`s no reduction of competition. So we`re just able to bring is better products to their markets.
BOORSTIN (on camera): Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) says the merger will actually benefit consumers in small and medium-sized businesses, providing faster Internet connections and better technology for streaming video.
ROBERTS: There`s over four in many cases five video competitors in every market, selling all of their content services. Businesses transforming every day with technology, it`s a competitive business.
BOORSTIN (voice-over): Another question, how the combined company`s greater leverage will impact negotiations with content companies like CBS (NYSE:CBS), which battled with Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) Cable over fees for months last year.
LES MOONVES, CBS (NYSE:CBS) CORP. PRESIDENT AND CEO: We don`t think it`s going to be the same sort of struggle. We obviously already have an existing deal with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS), and we look forward to continuing that in the future.
BOORSTIN: Now, we`ll see whether the deal can clear regulatory hurdles.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Julia Boorstin in Los Angeles.
MATHISEN: And let`s turn now to those regulatory hurdles Julia just mentioned.
Hampton Pearson joins us from Washington with more.
So, what are, Hampton, the possible road blocks to the deal and what hurdles does it have to overcome?
HAMPTON PEARSON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the Justice Department is going to review the proposals for basically harms to competition, some of which Julia touched on in her report. While Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) and Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) have no overlap in their respective cable businesses, that merged company would see Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) with about 30 million households just in cable TV alone. It`s also being argued that the company would have leverage with the content providers when it comes to distribution. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS), of course, owns NBC Universal (NYSE:UVV).
But what about major content providers like CBS (NYSE:CBS) and Disney (NYSE:DIS)? Would the merged Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS)-Time Warner
(NYSE:TWX) have too much leverage if you will as far as fewer negotiations in things like retransmission deals?
Also that merged company would put Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) in 19 of the 20 largest markets, with about a 30 percent share of the paid TV business and also a strong position for providing broadband and Internet services as well. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS), of course, argues its real competition in all those venues is satellite TV and telecom, not just over cable providers.
We`ve seen by the way the Justice Antitrust Division stepping up its scrutiny of big merger deals lately.
PEARSON: And the other thing, too, the piece of the Federal Communications Commission will have to review is all those things related to the public interests, from whether cable bills would get jacked up, and it is the first new deal for the new FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler.
Consumer groups as you heard again in Julia`s report already predicting higher prices.
HERERA: And then there`s Congress, Hampton. What role if any might Congress play in this?
PEARSON: Well, no surprise, there will be hearings in both the House and Senate. Within hours of the news today, about this deal, we had bipartisan statements from the leaders of the anti-trust subcommittees in both the House and Senate, announcing plans to evaluate the benefits and the challenges of this proposed merger going forward.
Also there is, if there`s anything that`s a consensus about in all of this the deal will be closely scrutinized by regulators and probably could take about a year before we get some sort of final resolution.
MATHISEN: All right, Hampton, thank you very much. Hampton Pearson reporting from Washington.
And a disclosure: Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) is the parent company of CNBC, which produces this program.
HERERA: On Wall Street, the major averages ended with some modest gains today. Strong earnings reports from the likes of Goodyear, PepsiCo and Burger King helped offset disappointing date that about retail sales in January and a spike in first time jobless claims last week. The Dow finished up 63 points today and closing back above the 16,000 threshold.
The NASDAQ was up 39 points, a nearly 1 percent jump in its sixth session in a row of gains. And the S&P was up 10.
MATHISEN: More now on that weaker than forecast retail sales forecast from last month with Mother Nature getting a lot of the blame.
The Commerce Department reports that unusually frigid temps in January sent overall retail sales 0.4 percent lower with Americans spending less, most notably on autos, new clothing and maybe not surprisingly, dining out.
HERERA: This week`s storm called Pax stretching from Louisiana to Maine is already having a big impact on retail sales for February.
Sara Eisen takes a look at how this latest winter blast is impacting some of the nation`s biggest retailers, the consumer and the economy.
SARA EISEN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The winter storm is paralyzing retail in parts of the country. Some color from corporate America. Walmart had to close 137 facilities in Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, including some super centers and Sam`s Clubs.
Walmart told us, “Our biggest challenge right now is staffing.”
One hundred twenty-five Macy`s stores either shut down or delayed opening today, including 11 Bloomingdales from North Carolina through New Jersey.
Home Depot (NYSE:HD) closed 70 stores yesterday, primarily around its Atlanta headquarters. All but three reopened this morning.
SAM POSER, STERNE AGEE SR. RESEARCH ANALYST: I think this too will pass. I think it`s going to clear within a couple of days. I think it affects some business this part of the year isn`t the biggest. And I think they`ll get through this and the people will have cabin fever and be out and shopping in the next couple of days.
EISEN: So, how does it impact the economy?
We got a clue today from the retail sales numbers for January, slipping 0.4 percent. Industries that rely on foot traffic, auto sales, clothing, furniture stores and restaurants, led the decline.
POSER: Some of the larger retailers probably got more affected. I still think some of the retailers that had really good key items probably performed fairly well. We saw that out of Dick`s Sporting Goods that just comped at 7 for the quarter ending January. And I believe they`re still benefiting from having the cold weather product.
EISEN: While few straight months of declining sales likely reflected frigid temperatures, there were some signs of weakness creeping in. For instance, in January, online sales also came in negative.
We`re going to have to wait until the weather improves to get a real read on consumer spending. But for now, it looks like it`s in a deep freeze.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Sara Eisen.
MATHISEN: All this crippling cold and snowy weather is sending supplies of natural gas lower and the price sharply higher. Futures on natural gas shot up 8 percent today to a more than 10-month high.
HERERA: And a new survey says that that same wicked winter weather is taking a $50 billion toll on the economy this quarter, with half of recent economic weakness attributed to those frigid temps and dangerous snow and ice.
Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) even lowered its estimate for first quarter economic growth to 1.6 percent, down from a previous forecast of 2.6 percent.
MATHISEN: Our guest tonight, Bill Smead, says every year has its GDP ups and downs, but he remains optimistic about the economy and the markets for the long-term. He`s CEO and chief investment officer at Smead Capital Management.
Bill, welcome back. Good to have you with us.
Let`s talk a little bit about the economy and how weather may affect it here in the first quarter. I was at a conference a couple of days ago where everybody was saying, you know, expect some real lumpiness, bumpiness in some of the numbers, and they won`t really be trustworthy in the first quarter.
What do you think?
BILL SMEAD, SMEAD CAPITAL MANAGEMENT CEO & CIO: Oh, that could be accurate. There`s things like this in individual quarters that happen almost every year. A few years ago, the federal government was such a net drag on GDP because of the way they were having to rein in employees and rein in spending that that was a real drag. And so, we had a few in 2010, 2011, 2012, we had three different stages of worrying about double dip recession and so forth.
It`s just a bump in the road. I don`t know how many people have extrapolated all the extra babies that we might have nine months from now.
The last time New York City had a brownout, I think they had a record- setting number of babies. These storms are trapping people indoors. And so, you just don`t — you don`t know.
But the irony is the way the market`s traded it has had an impact.
Because they feel like the kiwi is not going to get sped up and a lot of people participate in this market under the assumption that only thing going for it is the Fed. So, when they feel good about the Fed, they buy stocks. When they get nervous about the economy being strong enough to not need the Fed, they back away.
HERERA: You do maintain, Bill, do you not, that basically large cap U.S. stocks are under-owned by some of the wealthiest investors out there and perhaps the average investors a well?
SMEAD: Yes. For example, Harvard`s endowment was in a major publication over the weekend, explaining to people that they have 11 percent of their $30-plus billion portfolio in U.S.-long only equity. And we know from studies like in the CUBO/Commonfund of endowments that 52 percent of long U.S. equity was average for institutions back, say, in 2002.
So, the idea that you could have a wicked, vicious, bear market and massive selloff usually means to sell off, you had to be on. We think the largest pools of money in the world, especially U.S. institutions, aren`t on. Therefore, it`s hard for them to get off. In the meantime, speculators could do to get their ears pinned back because there`s been a lot of frothy activity.
MATHISEN: You have identified several S&P sectors that you like and several that you really don`t, including energy, basic materials, industrials, utilities and telecom. Those are largely defensive sectors.
So I assume you`re in technology, you`re in medical, you`re in consumer discretionary. Am I right?
SMEAD: Well, you`re on the right track. We`re actually fairly lightly involved in technology through eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) and Accenture, who are technology agnostic. So, our biggest overweights are consumer discretionary, which has been a very contrary and lonely trade. We`ve been overweighted there for five years and financials and health care.
It`s really easy to think about our portfolio. There`s 86 million Americans between 18 and 37. And we think going to come out of the deep freeze of the five-year engagement and start living their lives. So, that means a lot of economic growth engine from buying houses, cars, et cetera.
So, we`re very positive longer term about the economy. And secondarily, my group, the baby boomers, we want to provide all the medicine that I`m going to need for the next 30 years to deal with my chronic illnesses.
MATHISEN: All right. Very, very quickly, got 30 seconds. Is the correction over? Or is there going to be another one?
SMEAD: Well, no. We think it`s a corrective phase that could last as long as six months.
MATHISEN: OK, great.
Bill, thank you very much. We appreciate your time tonight.
Bill Smead with Smead Capital Management.
SMEAD: Thank you.
HERERA: And still ahead, shares of Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) sliding. Is the tech company`s turn around plan in trouble?
MATHISEN: Shares of Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) by far the biggest decliner in the Dow today. They fell 2.5 percent after yesterday`s disappointing profit report and 2014 forecast. That`s got some industry watchers questioning Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO)`s turnaround plans.
Our Josh Lipton has more.
JOHN CHAMBERS, CISCO CEO: We will look at it not just a growth perspective —
JOSH LIPTON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a tough quarter for Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO)`s CEO, John Chambers. The company suffered a nearly 8 percent drop in sales and only three of its nine business segments showed growth.
Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) didn`t give investors much reason to cheer, predicting that revenue would decline again in the current quarter.
Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is seen as a tech bellwether. The company makes equipment that directs data traffic across the Internet.
Analysts covering Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) say a number of factors contributed to Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO)`s disappointing financial results.
There are some challenges out of Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO)`s control, such as a weak global IT spending environment which is plodding along in the low single digits. On the conference call with analysts, Chambers talked about the changes he`s seen in emerging markets, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.
But there are also issues specific for Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO). The company has overhauled key products in its core businesses of switching and routing. Customers have been stepping back and evaluating whether they want to buy these new products.
Investors sold Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) shares today discouraged by the results. But bulls say the stock is cheap and they`re optimistic Cisco
(NASDAQ:CSCO) will get traction with its new products.
AMITABH PASSI, UBS: Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) has the best arsenal in terms of the product portfolio. They have the best experience in terms of navigating prior market transitions and they have the most flexibility when it comes to the balance sheet.
LIPTON: There are also question about Chambers, a source of tension among Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) investors. His fans say he`s grown the company from $2 billion in annual revenue to more than $48 billion since Chambers became CEO in January 1995. That stock is up 1,000 percent, more than the major indexes. But in the past 10 years, the stock is down nearly 10 percent, way underperforming the market.
Chambers has indicated he could step down as CEO as soon as this year.
Passi thinks the transition in the C-suite within that timeframe would make sense for the company.
PASSI: He`s got a long, credible history with the company. I think he`s indicated it`s probably time for him the next couple of years to hand over the reins. I`m comfortable with that sort of a time frame.
LIPTON: Chambers and his team have a clear plan for Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO). Stay very active when it comes to M&A, invest a lot in research and development, and keep buying back stock from shareholders.
(on camera): Time will tell if that`s enough to win over investors.
Josh Lipton, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Silicon Valley.
HERERA: AIG swings to a profit, showing continued signs of a turnaround since the government bailout. And that is where we begin tonight`s “Market Focus”.
The insurer`s earnings out after the closing bell beat on both the top and bottom line. The company also upped its quarterly dividend and increased its buyback program by $1 billion. Shares initially rose after hours. The stock ended the regular session up 1 percent to $49.59.
Kraft (NYSE:KFT) Foods also reported after the market closed. Profits rose on pension-related gains and on higher sales of refrigerated meals and beverages. Revenue missed just slightly but investors didn`t seem to mind.
Shares rose following the report with Kraft (NYSE:KFT) ending the regular day up a fraction to $53.60.
And UPS announced a 5 cent increase to its dividend. The company said its solid cash flow performance drove the decision to give more back to shareholders. Since the year 2000, the company`s dividend has tripled.
Shares were up slightly to $96.56.
And PepsiCo`s North American beverage business posted another drop in sales, but the company says it won`t spin off that unit despite pressure from an activist investor. The soda and snack maker managed to report an earnings beat on strong sales from its snack food division and it raised the amount of cash that it will give back to shareholders. The CFO is optimistic about the future growth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUGH JOHNSTON, PEPSICO CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: We`re becoming more and more efficient while we`re driving the top line, and we`re freeing up money to invest in innovation and to invest in our brand. So, we really do have a dynamic cycle working in the company right now, which is what makes the performance so heartening because we think it can continue for quite a period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HERERA: Well, revenue, though, came in shy of estimates which sent the shares down more than 2 percent to $79.69.
MATHISEN: Well, Sue, Merck (NYSE:MRK) may get more than $10 billion for its consumer business, that according to reports. But the drugmaker has been publicly exploring the sale of the unit which makes well-known brands like Coppertone sunscreen, Claritin allergy pill, among other things.
Merck (NYSE:MRK) is looking to shed the business to focus on its therapeutic areas like its drugs for cancer and diabetes. Shares rose a fraction today to $55.10.
J.C. Penney named former Kohl`s executive Ed Record as its new chief financial officer. The struggling retailer didn`t say why its current CFO, Kevin Hannah is leaving. But the change which will go in effect in March is the latest in a series of turn around efforts by the troubled department store operator.
Shares of JCP are higher today by a little bit to $5.99.
And Whole Foods lowered its 2014 sales and profit forecast. The natural foods grocer reported an earnings miss after last night`s closing bell. It blamed it on growing competition from traditional grocers who are offering more organic foods.
The co-CEO Walter Robb says quality is what makes his chain successful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ROBB, WHOLE FOODS MARKET CO-CEO: Obviously, this quarter was disappointing for us as well, too. But I think, look, we`re not just about price and competing, we`re also about quality and the highest quality standards in the supermarket industry.
So, it`s balance between value and quality. I think we make our way forward based on both of those, not just on price.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATHISEN: Still, shares did fall more 7 percent today, to $51.46.
HERERA: Another train derailment with heavy Canadian crude oil spilling into a rural Pennsylvania community. That`s escalating calls for stronger safety standards on the nation`s freight rails. Twenty-one tankers from a 120-car Norfolk Southern (NYSE:SO) train went off the tracks at a bend in the town of Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. Nineteen tankers held crude, two others carried propane.
Despite heavy snow, the cleanup is under way, and thankfully there were no reports of injury or fire.
MATHISEN: An auto recall to tell you about — General Motors
(NYSE:GM) is recalling 778,000 Chevy Cobalts from the years 2005 through `07. The automaker says putting heavy items on key chains can pull down on the ignition and shut the engine off.
So, here`s the recommendation, folks. Leave the bowling ball in the trunk. Do not put it on the key chain.
And coming up, municipal budgets are already stretched thin. And now, they may soon be facing yet another unexpected call. That story when we come right back.
HERERA: If you or someone you know is flying anywhere today, be prepared to wait, a lot. Flightaware.com reports that a staggering 6,700 flights were canceled today because of the latest snowstorm. That`s a new one-day record. The hardest-hit airports, Baltimore, Washington Reagan National in D.C. and Charlotte Douglas in North Carolina, with each seeing more than 80 percent of today` scheduled flights grounded.
MATHISEN: Talk about offering a right product at the right time.
Generac, the maker of portable generators and standby power systems that so many homeowners bought after recent blizzard and hurricanes knocked out electricity, Generac earned a buck 11 a share last quarter, easily beating estimates of 90 cents and wrapping up its third straight year of record revenue. Investors really warmed up to the stock, igniting shares more than 13 percent today. It was up $6.75.
HERERA: Well, while many snowbound homeowners may rest easy knowing that they have generators, some towns and cities are finding themselves short on salt. Road salt, that is. And without a key material that will keep its streets safe and open this winter.
Morgan Brennan has more on the next big expense a lot of municipalities may be facing.
MORGAN BRENNAN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
If you drive, you probably already know the feeling. The toll that all this wicked winter weather has been taking on the roads, causing an outbreak of potholes from the Midwest to the Northeast. As storms keep coming, cities and towns are adding road repair, and with it more asphalt and higher labor costs to a growing list of weather-related expenses.
Municipal budgets are already stretched thin, thanks to road salt shortages, record (AUDIO GAP) propane prices, and an unprecedented number of (AUDIO GAP) which have helped make more potholes.
In New Jersey, the Transportation Department patched more than 25,000 potholes in January alone. That`s more than double the number filled a year ago. In New York City, the DOT filled nearly 69,000 potholes in the first six weeks of 2014, 83 percent more than the same period last year.
In the Midwest, Chicago`s already patched more than 125,000 potholes this year. In St. Paul, Minnesota, city engineers say the winter is shaping up to be one of the worst he`s ever seen, thanks to heavy plowing and extreme cold.
All of this as business leaders and union officials urge Congress to hike spending on infrastructure, funding projects that have been deferred in recent years.
RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO PRESIDENT: The DOT says that a third of our roads are now in poor or mediocre condition. We need as a nation to say, we`re going to be the most competitive when it comes to infrastructure and understand that that investment today is going to reap tremendous benefits down the road.
BRENNAN: Still, there`s one silver lining from municipal coffers.
The asphalt market is depressed, thanks to a lack of constructions since the economic downturn, demand has remained two-thirds what it was in 2007, and prices are pretty much flat. Experts say pothole patching will do little to drive down the price to push prices higher, with one less shortage for cities to worry about.
Even so, local officials say they won`t know the full extent of the damage until the weather gets warmer. That`s when they decide which streets to patch versus which ones to rebuild, which can get very expensive.
For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I`m Morgan Brennan.
MATHISEN: I`m getting ready for the ride home already.
All right. Finally tonight, as residents of 22 states dig out from upwards of 18 inches of fresh snow, another part of the country the Mojave Desert, saw the world`s biggest solar energy farm open for business today.
The $2.2 billion solar electric generator system stretching across five square miles of federal land on the California-Nevada border has been transformed by hundreds of thousands of solar panels, enough to power
140,000 homes. The power generator owned by NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG), Bright Source Energy and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).
So, let the sunshine in, Sue.
HERERA: Wouldn`t that be nice?
MATHISEN: Wouldn`t that be nice.
HERERA: Are you ready to dig out your car?
MATHISEN: I got to go dig it out, dig it out when I get home. I was getting ready to leave today and they plowed me back in.
HERERA: Spring`s almost here, I hope.
MATHISEN: I hope.
HERERA: That`s NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for tonight. I`m Sue Herera.
Thanks for joining us.
MATHISEN: And I`m Tyler Mathisen. Thanks from me as well.
Have a great evening, everybody, no matter where you are. We`ll see you tomorrow. Happy Valentine`s Day meantime.
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