Transcript: Nightly Business Report — March 25, 2015

ANNOUNCER:  This is NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT with Tyler Mathisen and Sue Herera.


TYLER MATHISEN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR:  Stock plunge.  Concerns over economic growth send investors heading for the exits.  The NASDAQ getting hit like it hasn’t been in nearly a year.


SUE HERERA, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT ANCHOR:  Acquired taste.  Heinz and Kraft (NYSE:KFT) gets together to form one of the biggest world food companies.  Could there be more to come?


MATHISEN:  And, up in smoke?  The Supreme Court takes up the latest challenge to the EPA’s power plant rules.  The big business ramification is being weighed.


All that and more tonight on NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT for Wednesday, March 25th.


HERERA:  Good evening, everyone, and welcome.


An ugly day on Wall Street got even uglier at the close.  Stocks were pummeled, falling for a third straight day with the NASDAQ taking the biggest hit.  Not even a monster deal in the food sector between Kraft (NYSE:KFT) and Heinz could stem the bleeding.  We’ll have more on that deal in just a moment.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 293 points to 17,718.  The NASDAQ suffered its biggest percentage drop in 11 months falling more than 2 percent or 118 points to 4,876.  And the S&P 500 dropped 30.


Investors were concerned about economic growth after a surprise decline in durable goods.  Orders for long-lasting products like appliances and computers fell almost 1.5 percent in February, and that’s the third decline in four months.  While a key measure of business investment fell for the sixth straight month.  The results prompted several economists to lower their forecast for first quarter economic growth.


MATHISEN:  Now to that blockbuster deal Sue just mentioned involving two giants in the American food industry.  Kraft (NYSE:KFT) and Heinz, both makers of products that are likely sitting on your kitchen shelves like Jell-O, Maxwell House coffee, and, of course, Heinz ketchup, well, the combined company will have revenue of about $28 billion and eight brands with sales of at least a billion dollars each a year.  It would rank as the fifth largest food company in the world behind Nestle, Mondelez, Pepsi and Unilever (NYSE:UN), this according to Euro Monitor International.


Shares of Kraft (NYSE:KFT)?  Guess what.  They shot higher.  Up 35 percent.  Heinz, which is owned by the private equity firm 3G and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A), will control 51 percent of the combined company with Kraft (NYSE:KFT) shareholders owning the rest.  Both 3G and Buffett say they’ll invest another $10 billion in the company.


And as Sara Eisen reports, the deal could have a big impact on the global food business.




SARA EISEN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  Kraft (NYSE:KFT) Singles and Mac and Cheese, meet Heinz Beanz and ketchup.  Kraft (NYSE:KFT) is merging with Heinz, owned by Brazilian private equity giant 3G and Warren Buffett.


The new company will be the fifth biggest food company in the world, the third biggest in the Americas.  Headquarters will be both in Heinz in Pittsburgh and Kraft (NYSE:KFT) Chicago.


Heinz CEO Bernard Hees will be CEO of the Kraft (NYSE:KFT) Heinz Company, and Kraft’s CEO John Cahill will be vice chairman of the board.


JOHN CAHILL, KRAFT FOODS GROUP CHAIRMAN & CEO:  We believe this transaction will allow us to make the changes that we need to make to become a stronger business much faster than we would be able to do on our own.  Like most winning teams make, it’s the right move at the right time.


EISEN:  And now is a tricky time for food companies, as they try to keep up with fast-changing taste.  Packaged foods are just not growing like they used to as consumers migrate to healthier, organic and natural choices.  But Warren Buffett will be a top shareholder of the new company told us he’s got a long history with Kraft (NYSE:KFT) and its brands and he plans to stay in it for the long haul.


WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN & CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY:  I first went into General Foods on behalf of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) in the early 1980s.  I think maybe we were larger shareholder, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) was the largest shareholder of General Foods, and these brands of Kraft (NYSE:KFT), a lot of them come out of General Foods holdings.  So, these are brands that I like 30-plus years ago and I like them today, and I think I like them 30 years from now.


EISEN (on camera):  The first order of business, cutting costs.  Management says they’re at least $1.5 billion worth of synergies.  Opportunities in the area to cut cost, everything from marketing to manufacturing.


Another great opportunity, international.  Heinz gets 61 percent of its sales abroad while Kraft (NYSE:KFT) is mostly focused on North America.






HERERA:  Henry Beukema owns shares of Kraft (NYSE:KFT) and he joins us now to talk more about that deal and the other companies that he thinks potentially could pair up.  He’s president and co-director of equity research at Guyasuta Investment Advisors.


Welcome, Henry.  Nice to have you here.




HERERA:  First of all, tell me what you think about this deal.  Do you see the synergies in this combination, that the two companies do?


BEUKEMA:  I think the synergies are actually somewhat modest.  They’re promising $1.5 billion of run rate expense saves by 2017, but I think that the synergies could be much higher.  If we go back and look at the Heinz deal, it was a little over a billion dollars of expense saves.


And so, yes, I think that those are very achievable, what they’ve laid out so far.


MATHISEN:  You had a nice day today didn’t you, Henry?


BEUKEMA:  Yes.  In a sloppy market, I was glad to own Kraft (NYSE:KFT).


MATHISEN:  All right.  Let’s talk a little bit about what you think they have to do jointly to get their businesses growing.  That’s been sort of the challenge for these packaged foods companies, as food tastes change.


BEUKEMA:  Well, that’s exactly the long-term question that — you know, 3G brings a excellent play book.  You know, the zero based budgeting on how to cut costs, but the enigma is how do you create long-term growth in an environment where consumers want more fresh, more natural, organic and are willing to trade down to private label.  They don’t feel that there is value within the brands.


And so, the way that long-term this needs to be addressed is really through product innovation and then the traditional tool set of marketing, you know, effective displays.  You know, working with retailers.


But innovation is going to be key because that’s also the way that you can generate price over time.  It’s very hard to increase prices on well-known staple products, but a new product, you know, that meets some of the consumers’ emerging trends around dietary and natural and organic.  Those products will have pricing power.


HERERA:  So, who might be next?  I mean, a number of the stocks in this particular sector rally, some of them sharply today, on the idea there might be more combinations out there.


BEUKEMA:  Well, looking at the space, companies that come to mind based on both opportunities as well as their size.  Campbell’s Soup, you know, there is family control there that would have to be negotiated with as part of any transaction.  Hershey is another interesting one.  Mondelez is interesting and a little bit smaller than the three companies that just mentioned are Smucker’s, McCormick (NYSE:MKC), which is a spice company.


And then if we branch just a little bit outside of food, we can also look at deals as large as for companies like Pepsi or even Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) where companies that are thinking about the space of what I’ll call sheriff throat, they could be beer companies that are looking to add a company like Pepsi or Coke to the portfolio.


MATHISEN:  When you say a beer company, I can’t think of many that would be large enough to playing off your metaphor there, swallow either Pepsi or Coke.  Which one are you talking about?


BEUKEMA:  AB InBev could consummate a transaction of that size.  So, that would be the one that would most come to mind in terms of an acquirer or potentially a merger of equals.


HERERA:  All right, Henry, we have to leave it there.  Thank you for joining us.


Henry Beukema with Guyasuta Investment Advisors.




BEUKEMA:  Thank you very much.


MATTHEWS:  Now to Washington, Sue, where the Supreme Court hears a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules to curb power plant emission and the argument is focused on one thing, costs.


Hampton Pearson has more from the Supreme Court.




HAMPTON PEARSON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The latest challenge to the EPA’s regulatory authority involves power plant rules slated to take effect next month that for the first time would limit mercury, arsenic, and acid gas emissions.  Now, 20 states, key players in the utility industry, and the Chamber of Commerce have gone to the Supreme Court challenging the rule making process, claiming the agency refused to consider costs before imposing mercury regulations on coal and oil-fired electric power plants.


But the business community, the case is much bigger than the EPA.


JEFF HOLMSEAD, BRACEWELL & GIULIANI:  It really is a very fundamental question of whether regulators should pay more attention to the cost of their regulation.  I mean, if you look at the question that the Supreme Court asks, it really all comes down to that.


PEARSON:  Obama administration Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the high court said the EPA did its own cost analysis after it set health guidelines.  The EPA estimates the costs at $9.6 billion per year for the utility industry, but produces $37 billion to $90 billion in benefits, and prevents up to 11,000 deaths a year.  Environmentalists argue it’s no different than how the EPA approached auto pollution rule making.


SEAN DONAHUE, DONAHUE & GOLDBERG:  What Congress has said throughout the Clean Air Act is that initial decision about whether to regulate pollution should be a decision about public health and then what Congress has said throughout the Clean Air Act and in this provision that when you then set standards, you take into account costs.


PEARSON (on camera):  The EPA rule at the heart of this case has already gone into effect.  But any decision by the high court to in the future mandate cost-benefit analysis as part of regulation review, that would be a game changer.


For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, I’m Hampton Pearson in Washington.




MATHISEN:  And just yesterday, by the way, the Supreme Court issued a decision that could affect securities lawsuits.  The high court said investors cannot sue companies for making misleading statements of opinion in an SEC filing that later turned out to be false.  But investors can sue if documents filed with the sec express an opinion but omit important facts.  The case stems from stock offering statements filed by Omnicare (NYSE:OCR), which investors have claimed were misleading.  The Supreme Court decision was unanimous.


HERERA:  The Securities and Exchange Commission today took an important step to making it easier for small and mid-sized businesses to raise cash in the public market.  The commissioners approved rule changes that allow companies to raise up to $50 million a year from the general public without certain regulatory hurdles.  That’s way up from the $5 million cap.  This rule approval was part of the jobs act the president signed into law nearly three years ago.


MATHISEN:  At American Express’ investor today, the CEO Ken Chenault made it clear to shareholders that he has a strategy to overcome some of the company’s recent setbacks.  Shares of the Dow component fell about 1.5 percent today.  It’s been a struggle for a while there.


Mary Thompson joins us now with more.


Mary, what’s the big takeaway from this very long conference call or investor day?


MARY THOMPSON, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, it was about three and a half hour, three and a half hour presentation, Tyler.


You know, there was one key takeaway, that being that CEO Ken Chenault saying that the firm’s primary goal is to get back to an earnings growth of 12 percent to 15 percent by 2017.  This after losing a Costco (NASDAQ:COST) co-branded business.  The firm plans to use a familiar strategy to get there, grow new and existing businesses, control costs, and through capital management or buybacks.


Losing that Costco (NASDAQ:COST) business meant the company lost about 10 percent of its profits.  So, it’s a big blow to American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP).


HERERA:  Any reason — did they give any reason or as to why they lost at business?


THOMPSON:  Well, you know, Chenault made a couple of interesting comments during the presentation.  He said, first of all, that Costco (NASDAQ:COST) wanted AmEx to assume higher risk at lower returns, and it just didn’t make economic sense for the company.  He also says the retailer wanted a credit utility for its clients.


And that being said, AmEx is focused on retaining those clients.  So, it wouldn’t say how it plans to retain them.  It says it’s seeing some good results from this in Canada, but interestingly, the company’s CFO said, you know, if we don’t continue to retain them, we’re going to have to go through little restructuring.  And that’s code for job cuts.  So, this is something to watch.


MATHISEN:  Another setback was the loss of a recent antitrust suit.  What if anything did they say about that?


THOMPSON:  Well, Chenault said they are going to appeal this lawsuit, and that was expected.  And now that the remedies have been filed, once the judge rules on those remedies, the company will request a stay of the ruling during the appeals process, so they’re asking basically that merchants can’t request customers use cards that charge them less than American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP) does.


MATHISEN:  He’s had a very long run at American Express (NYSE:EXPR) (NYSE:AXP).  He has had a very supportive shareholder in Warren Buffett.




MATHISEN:  No one is saying Mr. Chenault is in any trouble —


THOMPSON:  Not at all but I think a lot of people are watching this closely because the company has lost a little bit of its mojo, and as he pointed out today, a very competitive environment.  There’s a lot of new technology, but you kept going back to the fact that they have a very strong core brand, strong platform, lots of information to share with retailers which would help them.


MATHISEN:  All right, Mary.  Good to see you.


HERERA:  Thanks, Mary, as always.


All right.  Still ahead, big changes are coming to Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), as that company continues to extend its reach far beyond the “like” button.




MATHISEN:  Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has already changed how we share parts of our lives and sometimes too many parts of them.  Today at its annual developers’ conference, the social networker also said it plans to change the way we communicate.  Shares of Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) fell, along with the rest of the markets today, down more than 2 1/2 percent for FB.


Julia Boorstin now with more from the developers’ conference in San Francisco.




JULIA BOORSTIN, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg telling me this year’s gathering of 2,500 developers is all about how the company is expanding beyond its core social network, to a rich portfolio of communication tools.


MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK CEO:  Over the last few years, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has really evolved in our approach to how we connect the world.  Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) used to be this single blue app.  It did a lot of different things.  Now, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is a family of apps.


BOORSTIN:  Today, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) announcing it’s turning messenger into a platform.  Forty developers are already on board to build on top of the app, enabling its 600 million users to share richer content like GIFs, videos and photos.  And now, it’s allowing businesses to communicate through messenger, too.


ZUCKERBERG:  Think about how useful it would be if you could just message and instantly get information instantly about whatever you need, make a reservation, buy something online.


Today, we’re introducing a way for you to communicate with businesses right through messenger.


BOORSTIN (on camera):  Today, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) also expanding its advertising tools, so could be the go-to destination for marketers to buy mobile and video ads not just for Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) apps but for across the apps universe, putting more direct competition with Twitter as well Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).


The company also giving a window into the ways people will communicate in the future.


ZUCKERBERG:  Soon, we’re going to start supporting spherical videos and newsfeed.  People watch more than 3 billion videos a day in newsfeeds, and it’s some of the most engaging content in our system.  We’re going to bring spherical videos to Oculus, too, and you’re going to put on your headset and just feel like you’re really there.


BOORSTIN (voice-over):  Zuckerberg saying he has high hopes for Oculus’ virtual technology, saying that kind of immersive experience could be important for far more than just video games, but for all the ways people communicate.






HERERA:  Now to another Silicon Valley firm, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).  According to visitor logs reviewed by “The Wall Street Journal”, the search company had meetings at the White House 230 times, about one a week on average, during the current administration, even as the government was wrapping up its antitrust investigation.  In comparison, executives from Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS), the parent company of CNBC, which produces this program, visited the White House about 20 times.


Eamon Javers has been looking into the visits and he has more from Washington.


So, Eamon, put it in perspective.  How many companies have meetings at the White House?


EAMON JAVERS, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Sue, the short answer is pretty much all of them.  Any company of significant size is going to have meetings at the White House.  The White House has any number of CEO panels on a regular basis and reach out to small businesses, but 230 meetings is a lot of meetings and it really gives you the impression that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and its staffers have sort of become part of the furniture over at the White House.  Whether that has helped them in this FTC case is going to be a big question here.


MATHISEN:  Do we know, Eamon, what the content of many of these meetings were?  Were they there expressly to lobby in the matter of these investigations?


JAVERS:  Well, what the White House said is no and it would have been improper for them to talk about an ongoing FTC investigation with Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) at the White House.


What I think we’re likely to find out is that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is there on a regular basis on a whole host of different issues, almost everything crosses Google’s threshold these days including intelligence matters, but also things like girls who code and other programs that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is involved with at the White House.


So, I think you’re going to see that these meetings were on a wide range of topics, not necessarily this FTC case, but it’s going to raise the question of why the Obama folks are so close to the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) folks.  Why are they seeing them so often on all these different topics?


And I think part of the answer to that I think is you have this young tech savvy Obama administration coming in after the 2008 campaign that are pushing forward on the Internet and they were sort of culturally simpatico with the guys at Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).  Eric Schmidt was a big supporter of the president and has been active on a lot of the president’s panels.  So, from top to bottom, there’s a closeness there between this White House and folks over at Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).


MATHISEN:  The president said he’s going to crack down on lobbying.  This would suggest that hasn’t happened.


JAVERS:  Yes, I mean, what the president has said was that he was going to work on eliminating a lot of people who are doing the revolving door in Washington.  They were the folks who are going out of working for companies, and coming back in and working for government.


In the end though, the White House was forced to issue a number of waivers to their own policy on that and allow a number of people who were lobbyists to participate in government again even though they said at the outset, they didn’t want to do that in this administration.  And part of what you’re seeing here is the plain fact that any White House is going to have to deal with the most powerful companies in the country, including Google (NASDAQ:GOOG).  And that’s what’s happened here.


The question though is, did they have outside support in the White House and did that have any bearing on the FTC resolution?


MATHISEN:  All right.  Eamon, thank you very much.  Eamon Javers in Washington for us.


HERERA:  And Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) now says it expects the regulatory review of its proposed merger with Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) to conclude in the middle of this year.  The comment was made by an executive in a blog post.  The $45 billion deal is being looked at by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.  Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (NYSE:CCS) owns CNBC which produces NBR.


MATHISEN:  Apollo Education Group sees a big dip in college enrollment and that is where we begin tonight’s focus.


The for-profit education company reported a smaller-than-expected loss last quarter, but offered up a disappointing sales projections for the rest of the year.  Shrinking student numbers are a big part of the story, after its University of Phoenix, which I had in my bracket, saw a drop in new enrollment.  Shares plunged more than 28 percent to $20.04.


A tough day for shares of Lands’ End.  The retailer saw its earnings fall in the holiday quarter, as its results were hurt by a product recall and negative currency impacts.  The stock was off more than 2 1/2 percent to $34.74.


Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX) meanwhile saw sales rise in its February quarter, helped by an increase in revenue in its human resources business.  The payroll services company’s earnings were in-line with the street’s estimates.  Still, the stock was off 4 percent to $49.20.


HERERA:  An update now on Lumber Liquidators.  U.S. regulators at the Consumer Product Safety Commission said they were investigating certain Chinese made products sold by the wood flooring company.  It will test to see if those floors contain harmful levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.  This follows media reports that those Chinese-made products are dangerous.  The stock was 10 1/2 percent higher to $31.86.


U.S.  Steel says it will temporarily idle a plant in Illinois as it consolidates its North American flat-rolled steel operations.  This comes as there’s been weak demand from the energy sector.  The move will result in more than 2,000 layoffs.  Shares were up a few cents to $24.81.


McCormick (NYSE:MKC) announcing a buyback and dividend after the close.  The spice maker declared a 40-cent quarterly dividend and its board authorized a $600 million share repurchase program.  Shares were little changed after hours.  Before the close they rose 1 percent to $75.99.


MATHISEN:  And coming up, a build-up of cargo out of those West Coast ports, but there’s also may be a high-tech solution to help break through the big backlog.




HERERA:  And here’s a look at what to watch for tomorrow.  Initial jobless claims will give some insight into the health of the labor market.  A judge will decide RadioShack’s fate in bankruptcy court, and in a run-up to Fed chair Janet Yellen’s speech on Friday, Fed President James Bullard and Dennis Lockhart are speaking tomorrow.  And that is what to watch.


MATHISEN:  Well, one of the highest paid television personalities in Britain and the world in the host of one of the BBC’s most profitable franchises has been sacked.  Jeremy Clarkson, already suspended for allegedly punching a producer on his popular show “Top Gear”, was told today that his contract with the BBC won’t be renewed and what a contract it was.  In all, he pulled down about $21 million last year.


Clarkson, who was apparently miffed when the producer couldn’t produce a state dinner for him at a Yorkshire Hotel helped turn “Top Gear” into a cash cow for the BBC.  In fact, it’s one of the most watched television shows in the world in all.  “Top Gear” is $1.5 billion franchise.  Views by an estimated 350 million people in about 170 countries every week.


HERERA:  It’s been about a month since the temporary deal was reached to end the slowdown at those West Coast ports.  But the backlog still isn’t clear.


And as Jane Wells reports from the port of Los Angeles, the port is getting creative to cut through all that congestion.




JANE WELLS, NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT CORRESPONDENT:  After months of congestion, unclogging the nation’s largest container port is taking longer than expected.  Just ask Ryan Molinaro, who manages the west basin container terminal.


RYAN MOLINARO, WEST BASIN CONTAINER TERMINAL:  A month in from the contract, there’s a little more velocity, but we still have a long way to go.


WELLS:  Weeks after a tentative deal was reached between shipping operators and dock workers on the West Coast, there is still a back-up in Los Angeles and Long Beach.


Here’s a view of that port complex one month ago from the marine traffic app.  The green squares are container ships.  There were 30 offshore then.  Today, the number is down to about 20, still much higher than normal.


So, right here, right now, they’ve got to get this stuff moving.  And they’re trying all kinds of experiments, including an app from VC start-up that works like Uber, but instead calling up a car, it calls up a truck.  And instead of picking up passengers, it picks up containers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There are over 200 trucks out here right now.


WELLS:  The app is from Cargomatic, founded by Brett Parker and Jonathan Kessler.  When trucks usually arrive at the port, they come for a specific container which can be buried beneath the pile but with Cargomatic free flow program, shippers used an app to connect with available and willing truckers who take the first container off the top of a pile no matter where it’s going.


Truck driver Marcus (NYSE:MCS) Browder said he gets him out of the port in half the time.


MARCUS BROWDER, TRUCK DRIVER:  It’s real quick and you’re out of here.


JONATHAN KESSLER, CARGOMATIC CO-FOUNDER & CEO:  It increases the number of containers that you can leave the port by almost a factor of 6.


WELLS:  Retailers are starting to notice.


BRETT PARKER, CARGOMATIC CO-FOUNDER & COO:  William Sonoma, Michael’s, a newest one is Perry Ellis.


WELLS:  Right now, it’s a very small experiment.  And one corner of this massive port, Molinaro is impressed.


MOLINARO:  Well, it brings everyone together, and it really streamlines the whole process.


WELLS:  And streamlining is exactly what the port needs right now.


For NIGHTLY BUSINESS REPORT, Jane Wells, San Pedro, California.




HERERA:  That’s it for us tonight.


MATHISEN:  We’ll see you tomorrow.







Nightly Business Report transcripts and video are available on-line post broadcast at The program is transcribed by CQRC Transcriptions, LLC. Updates may be posted at a later date. The views of our guests and commentators are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Nightly Business Report, or CNBC, Inc. Information presented on Nightly Business Report is not and should not be considered as investment advice. (c) 2015 CNBC, Inc.


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