Energizer Holdings Passes This Key Test

There's no foolproof way to know the future for Energizer Holdings (NYSE: ENR  ) or any other company. However, certain clues may help you see potential stumbles before they happen -- and before your stock craters as a result.

A cloudy crystal ball
In this series, we use accounts receivable and days sales outstanding to judge a company's current health and future prospects. It's an important step in separating the pretenders from the market's best stocks. Alone, AR -- the amount of money owed the company -- and DSO -- the number of days' worth of sales owed to the company -- don't tell you much. However, by considering the trends in AR and DSO, you can sometimes get a window onto the future.

Sometimes, problems with AR or DSO simply indicate a change in the business (like an acquisition), or lax collections. However, AR that grows more quickly than revenue, or ballooning DSO, can also suggest a desperate company that's trying to boost sales by giving its customers overly generous payment terms. Alternately, it can indicate that the company sprinted to book a load of sales at the end of the quarter, like used-car dealers on the 29th of the month. (Sometimes, companies do both.)

Why might an upstanding firm like Energizer Holdings do this? For the same reason any other company might: to make the numbers. Investors don't like revenue shortfalls, and employees don't like reporting them to their superiors.

Is Energizer Holdings sending any potential warning signs? Take a look at the chart below, which plots revenue growth against AR growth, and DSO:


Source: S&P Capital IQ. Data is current as of last fully reported fiscal quarter. FQ = fiscal quarter.

The standard way to calculate DSO uses average accounts receivable. I prefer to look at end-of-! quarter receivables, but I've plotted both above.

Watching the trends
When that red line (AR growth) crosses above the green line (revenue growth), I know I need to consult the filings. Similarly, a spike in the blue bars indicates a trend worth worrying about. As another reality check, it's reasonable to consider what a normal DSO figure might look like in this space.


LFQ Revenue


?Energizer Holdings $1,199 72
?Procter & Gamble $21,917 27
?Spectrum Brands $827 39
?EnerSys $547 78

Source: S&P Capital IQ. DSO calculated from average AR. Data is current as of last fully reported fiscal quarter. LFQ = last fiscal quarter. Dollar figures in millions.

Differences in business models can generate variations in DSO, so don't consider this the final word -- just a way to add some context to the numbers. But let's get back to our original question: Will Energizer Holdings miss its numbers in the next quarter or two?

I don't think so. AR and DSO look healthy. For the last fully reported fiscal quarter, Energizer Holdings' year-over-year revenue grew 13.1%, and its AR grew 8.3%. That looks OK. End-of-quarter DSO decreased 4.2% from the prior-year quarter. It was down 4.4% versus the prior quarter. Still, I'm no fortuneteller, and these are just numbers. Investors putting their money on the line always need to dig into the filings for the root causes and draw their own conclusions.

What now?
I us e this kind of analysis to figure out which investments I need to watch more closely as I hunt the market's best returns. However, some investors actively seek out companies on the wrong side of AR trends in order to sell them short, profiting when they eventually fall. Which way would you play this one? Let us know in the comments below, or keep up with the stocks mentioned in this article by tracking them in our free watchlist service, My Watchlist.

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1 Reason Cenveo May Be Headed for a Slowdown

Here at The Motley Fool, I've long cautioned investors to keep a close eye on inventory levels. It's a part of my standard diligence when searching for the market's best stocks. I think a quarterly checkup can help you spot potential problems. For many companies, products that sit on the shelves too long can become big trouble. Stale inventory may be sold for lower prices, hurting profitability. In extreme cases, it may be written off completely and sent to the shredder.

Basic guidelines
In this series, I examine inventory using a simple rule of thumb: Inventory increases ought to roughly parallel revenue increases. If inventory bloats more quickly than sales grow, this might be a sign that expected sales haven't materialized. Is the current inventory situation at Cenveo (NYSE: CVO  ) out of line? To figure that out, start by comparing the company's inventory growth to sales growth. How is Cenveo doing by this quick checkup? At first glance, pretty well. Trailing-12-month revenue increased 8.2%, and inventory increased 5.4%. Over the sequential quarterly period, the trend looks healthy. Revenue grew 1.1%, and inventory dropped 8.4%.

Advanced inventory
I don't stop my checkup there, because the type of inventory can matter even more than the overall quantity. There's even one type of inventory bulge we sometimes like to see. You can check for it by examining the quarterly filings to evaluate the different kinds of inventory: raw materials, work-in-progress inventory, and finished goods. (Some companies report the first two types as a single category.)

A company ramping up for increased demand may increase raw materials and work-in-progress inventory at a faster rate when it expects robust future growth. As such, we might consider oversized growth in those categories to offer a clue to a brighter future, and a clue that most other investors will miss. We call it "! positive inventory divergence."

On the other hand, if we see a big increase in finished goods, that often means product isn't moving as well as expected, and it's time to hunker down with the filings and conference calls to find out why.

What's going on with the inventory at Cenveo? I chart the details below for both quarterly and 12-month periods.


Source: S&P Capital IQ. Data is current as of latest fully reported quarter. Dollar amounts in millions. FY = fiscal year. TTM = trailing 12 months.


Source: S&P Capital IQ. Data is current as of latest fully reported quarter. Dollar amounts in millions. FQ = fiscal quarter.

Let's dig into the inventory specifics. On a trailing-12-month basis, finished goods inventory was the fastest-growing segment, up 25.4%. That can be a warning sign, so investors should check in with Cenveo's filings to make sure there's a good reason for packing the storeroom for this period. On a sequential-quarter basis, work-in-progress inventory was the fastest-growing segment, up 3.2%. Cenveo seems to be handling inventory well enough, but the individual segments don't provide a clear signal.

Foolish bottom line
When you're doing your research, remember that aggregate numbers such as inventory balances often mask situations that are more complex than they appear. Even the detailed numbers don't give us the final word. When in doubt, listen to the conference call, or contact investor relations. What at first looks like a problem may actually signal a stock that will provide the market's best returns. And what might look hunky-dory at first glance could actually be warning you to cut your losses before the rest of the Street wises up.

! I run th ese quick inventory checks every quarter. To stay on top of inventory and other tell-tale metrics at your favorite companies, add them to your free watchlist, and we'll deliver our latest coverage right to your inbox.

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Admission comes in exclusive interview with Bloomberg Television

In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg Television, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that even if President Barack Obama was elected to a second term, that it was unlikely he would be asked to return to his current position.

“He’s not going to ask me to stay on, I’m pretty confident. I’m confident he’ll be president. But I’m also confident he’s going to have the privilege of having another secretary of the Treasury�� Something else for me.”

Geithner made the admission in a one-hour interview with Bloomberg Television that covered topics ranging from Dodd-Frank to the European debt crisis to manufacturing in the U.S. The entire interview can be seen in the embedded video below.

Alon USA Energy, Inc. Quarterly Earning Growth Remained More Than 49% - NYSE:ALJ

Alon USA Energy, Inc. (NYSE:ALJ) shares were transacted unexpectedly with a volume of 442,581.00 shares as compared to its average volume of 178,427.00 shares. ALJ opened at $8.20 scored +7.06% closed $8.79. Its 52 week price range is $4.77 - $9.00.

ALJ has earnings of -$188.39 million and made $3.50 billion sales for the last 12 months. Its quarter to quarter sales remained -0.36%. The company has 54.18 million of outstanding shares and 11.70 million shares were floated in the market.

ALJ has an insider ownership at 80.77% and institutional ownership remained 13.16%. Its return on investment (ROI) for the last 12 month was -10.82% as compare to its return on equity (ROE) of -51.42% for the last 12 months.
The price moved ahead +23.99% from the mean of 20 days, +41.23% from 50 and went up +44.62% from 200 days average price. Company��s performance for the week was +23.11%, +45.77% for month and yearly performance remained +33.38%.

Its price volatility for a month remained 5.41% whereas volatility for a week noted as 8.18% having beta of 0.82. Company��s price to sales ratio for last 12 months was 0.14 while its price to book ratio for the most recent quarter was 1.46.

Euro eases after hours following ratings cuts

Standard & Poor��s late Friday delivered an anticipated downgrade of sovereign-debt ratings of several euro-zone nations late Friday, prompting a quick pullback in the European single currency.

Click to Play

Week ahead: Google, Citi results

Quarterly earnings pick up in full force with results from Google, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. They're likely to be the highlight for markets if worries about Europe don't get in the way, Laura Mandaro reports for Markets Hub. (Photo: AP)

Several exchange-traded funds tracking the U.S. stock market tipped higher.

The euro EURUSD lost ground against the dollar following the ratings announcements but it soon rebounded to 1.2675 against the dollar. The dollar index DXY ?, which tracks the U.S. unit against a basket of six major rivals, rose to 81.51, slightly easing from a spike to 81.54. Read more on currencies.

S&P cut the triple-A ratings of France and Austria, and downgraded Spain, Italy, and Portugal. France and Austria are now both rated AA+, Spain is at A, and Italy is rated BBB+. Portugal��s rating was dropped to a junk grade of BB. Read more on downgrades.

The moves had been anticipated after the ratings agency placed 15 euro-zone countries on watch for possible downgrades in early December.

Late Friday, the SPDR S&P 500 Trust SPY ?, ! which tr acks the S&P 500 Index, rose 0.3% and the PowerShares QQQ Trust QQQ ?, which tracks the Nasdaq 100, rose 0.14%. Also, the Financial Select Sector SPDR XLF ?, which follows financial stocks in the S&P 500 Index SPX , rose 0.1%.

Stocks on the broader market fell in the regular session after reports that Standard & Poor��s was set to downgrade a number of sovereign ratings. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA ? closed 49 points, or 0.4%, lower at 12,422.06. The S&P 500 Index SPX ?fell 0.5% to 1,289.09 and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP ?gave up 0.5% to 2,710.67. Read more on U.S. stocks.

NFLX: HR 2471 a Prelude to Facebook, Says Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer & Co.’s Jason Halfstein this morning writes that Netflix (NFLX) is “one step closer to U.S. Facebook integration and ‘social TV,’ as a result of the passage in the U.S. House of Representatives late Tuesday of legislation H.R. 2471.

That bill, backed by Republican California Rep. Howard Coble, and Republican Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, and Democratic California Rep. Linda Sanchez, amends rules about disclosing who rented video tapes to say that consent to disclose such information may be obtained via the Internet.

The bill “would allow users to provide ongoing online consent to share their video rental histories, paving the way for US Facebook integration,” writes Halfstein. That could help Netflix by making subscriber growth more “viral,” he thinks, thus reducing some customer acquisition costs.

Nevertheless, Halfstein still expects the stock will be under pressure from generally negative sentiment until Q4 results are reported in late January.

Netflix shares are down $2.44, or 3.4%, at $69.52.

2012: South Carolina's rebound year

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- At first glance, South Carolina would seem to be in pretty bad shape.

The state, home of Saturday's Republican primary, has a 9.9% unemployment rate and 18% of its population lives in poverty.

But the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Signs are already emerging that South Carolina may start booming this year.

The state is likely to be the second-fastest growing over the next sixth months, according to forecasts from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve.

"It's not to say that we're going to have the most prosperous economy, but our prospects for growth in 2012 are strong relative to other states," said Doug Woodward, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina.

What's driving the turnaround

An auto renaissance is helping to revive some of the state's rural areas. Just last week, BMW announced a $900 million investment in its Spartanburg factory, adding 300 jobs.

Upstate areas are benefiting from skilled and often high-wage manufacturing jobs being added by Michelin, Fluor and General Electric (GE, Fortune 500). And in the southeast, Boeing (BA, Fortune 500) is a big player.

Despite objections from the National Labor Relations Board, the aerospace giant opened a new $750 million assembly plant in North Charleston in June. In addition to the 9,000 jobs the company said were created in the construction phase, the factory now employs more than 5,000 people.

Check the unemployment rate in your state

"Manufacturing is a big strength for South Carolina. Factories are creating jobs here and their big supplier network continues to grow," Woodward said. "Take a walk in Greenville [where GE and Fluor have large plants], and it doesn't look like a recession."

Overall, manufacturing jobs grew about 5% last year in the state, and Woodward is projecting another 5% increase in 2012.

Meanwhile, Columbia, Charleston and Rock Hill are being helped by jobs in professi! onal and business services, which rebounded in full force and are back at 2007 levels.

They're also benefiting from hiring in education and health services, which barely missed a beat in the recession and has grown 8% over the last three years.

More struggles ahead

The state's high unemployment rate is more a reflection of long-term weakness in rural communities -- places that may be a shell of their former selves, said Wells Fargo Chief Economist John Silvia.

Marion County, which recently had a whopping 17.3% unemployment rate has struggled with joblessness long before the recession began. It's unemployment rate has been in the double digits since 2002.

"The rural areas have poverty and we need help to get our population to the point where they can get job," said Anne Rice, executive director of the USC Salkehatchie Leadership Institute in Allendale County. There, the unemployment rate is 16.9% and roughly 40% of the county's 10,000 residents live in poverty.

But even rural South Carolina might be poised for a turnaround. Rice is optimistic that recent efforts to bring more employers to the state will improve her area.

In the last three months alone, the region has attracted several small businesses, including a state-of-the-art plastics recycling facility, an Egyptian company that makes safety clothing and a new factory that manufactures store fixtures.

Other local businesses, including the Doc Depot -- a medical document retrieval service -- have also announced expansions.

"This is a wonderful part of South Carolina and a lot of people don't realize the potential we have," Rice said. "We're working as hard as we can to make things better." 

Business Brazil Revealed

Brazil has emerged as the most powerful economy in Latin America. In this article, we will disclose more information about this beautiful country and tips on how to start importing and exporting.

This federal republic boosts a population of close to 200 million people with its official language as Portuguese. There are a lot of other important communities that speak Spanish, German, Japanese, English and other Amerindian languages. Its currency is the real and its capital is Brasilia. Its most important industries are textiles, shoes, chemicals, cement, lumber, iron ore, tin, steel, aircraft and motor vehicles. Brazil’s main business partners are the US, China, Argentina, Germany, Nigeria and the Netherlands.

Brazil has very large quantities of natural resources including the largest recent oil find since the year 2000 insuring that it will be able to support their fast growing economy. Their natural resources include bauxite, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, platinum, tin, uranium, petroleum, hydropower and timber.

As a foreigner, you will need to adapt yourself to the Brazilian culture therefore you need to know the basic business etiquette of the country. To start, the dress code for men is a suit and tie. For woman, it is pants or a skirt with a blouse. People in the banking industry usually dress more formally. Business greetings are usually done with a firm handshake, a tap on the back and an air kiss for women.

Set your meeting around two weeks ahead of time. Be prepared to show up on time even thought your potential business partner will be a little late.

Overall, gifts are not expected but you can give still go ahead by offering some company material such as agendas or pens. Be aware that expensive gifts can sometimes be perceived as a bribe and can be badly looked upon so don’t take too many risks there.

As you can see, doing business in Brazil can represent endless business opportunities. You just need to investigate further abou! t your i ndustry in this emergent market and

Joshua Adekane specializes in assisting companies on how to successfully build and grow their sales in Latin America and the Caribbean. To get instant access to tools and resources, click here Brazil Suppliers. For more information about this dynamic market, click here B2B Website

Smith Micro Jumps; C.L. King Upgrades; Sees S, VZ 4G Play

Smith Micro Software (SMSI) shares are sharply higher this morning after C.L. King analyst Lawrence Harris upped his rating on the stock to Accumulate from Neutral.

Harris says Smith is well-positioned to benefit from the coming transition at both Sprint (S) and Verizon Wireless (VZ, VOD) to 4G wireless service. He says the company is the leading provider of connectivity management software to Sprint’s majority-owned Clearwire (CLWR) unit and its various affiliates.

He adds that Verizon intends to roll out LTE service this year in 25-30 markets, covering 100 million people.

Harris points out that Verizon, Sprint and AT&T were all 10%-plus customers for the company in 2009.

SMSI is up 43 cents, or 5%, to $8.96.

Stocks head for higher ground after Europe deal

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks are gearing up for a higher open Friday, after a majority of European leaders agreed on a new deal to try to resolve the eurozone debt crisis.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were all slightly higher ahead of the opening bell. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.

During a meeting in Brussels early Friday, the 17 members of the eurozone -- which share the embattled single currency -- reached a deal for a new intergovernmental treaty to deepen the integration of national budgets. Six other EU nations supported the deal, whereas Britain and three other countries did not. Leaders are aiming to have the plan ready by March.

European stocks and U.S. stock futures headed higher after the news, even after Moody's downgraded three top French banks the same morning. Those banks are BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole SA and Société Générale.

Meanwhile, an exclusive Reuters report that China is creating a $300 billion fund to invest in both Europe and the United States, could also be lending support to markets, said Jennifer Lee, an economist with BMO Capital Markets.

Eurozone leaders: New deal without UK

U.S. stocks are coming off of losses Thursday, as anxiety was high ahead of a crucial summit aimed at resolving the European debt crisis.

The stock sell-off accelerated in the last 20 minutes of trading, with all three indexes falling to their lows of the day, after a flurry of headlines put the likelihood of a debt crisis solution into question.

The declines were sparked in part by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi's refusal to commit to offering broad assistance to troubled eurozone countries on Thursday. Draghi also emphasized "substantial downside risks" for the European economy.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is in Europe all week to meet with top government offi! cials, h ighlighting the growing concern in Washington about the eurozone debt crisis.

World markets: European stocks rose in morning trading. Britain's FTSE 100 (UKX) ticked up 0.6%, the DAX (DAX) in Germany gained 1.3% and France's CAC 40 (CAC40) added 1.5%.

Asian markets ended lower, after mixed reports on China's economy showed that inflation cooled in November while industrial production slowed sharply. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) fell 0.6%, the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong slumped 2.7% and Japan's Nikkei (N225) lost 1.5%.

Economy: The government released its latest trade data for October, showing the U.S. trade deficit dipped slightly to $43.5 billion. The number was in line with estimates, but deeper in the red from the $43.1 billion deficit in the prior month.

The morning also brings the December installment of the University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index, which is expected to rise to 65.1 from 64.1 in November.

Companies: American banks saw their stocks rise significantly in premarket trading, after they cratered the day before. Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) shares were up 1.7%, Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) climbed 2.5%, Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) rose 1.8% and JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) added 1.7% before the opening bell Friday.

DuPont (DD, Fortune 500) shares plunged 4.1%, after the company also lowered its forecasts for the year. DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman cited slower growth and global economic uncertainty, as reasons for the lower outlook.

Meanwhile, Texas Instruments (TXN, Fortune 500) shares fell 6% early Friday, after the company lowered its forecasts for both fourth quarter earnings and revenue, in an announcement after the bell Thursday.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro and British pound, but rose slightly versus the Japanese yen.

Oil for January delivery added 8 cents to $98.42 a barrel.

Gold futures for February delivery gained $7.60 to $1,721 an ounce.

Bonds: The p rice on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 2.02% from 1.97% late Thursday.  

During the Hottest Summer in Years, it's Time to Start Pursuing Cold Weather Profits

Take our word for it: Even though much of the nation has experienced record high temperatures this month, it'll be plenty chilly before you know it - and if you want some hot profits to warm you up come January, you'd be smart to think "winter" in August.

No, we haven't been sneaking refreshments from a St. Bernard's K9 cask: The reality is that a lot of companies that specialize in cold-weather products are stuck in the summer doldrums right now, meaning their share prices are in the cellar.

But, when rising winter demand ramps up their sales and profits, those stock prices will likely march higher, right along with your monthly heating bills.

Cold-Weather Coffee Plays

Not all companies that see increased business in the winter are energy-related, though a number of them do deal in black liquids - but the kind that comes in cups rather than barrels.

The product, of course, is coffee, which prompts most people to think Starbucks Corp. (Nasdaq: SBUX), recent price: $24.50. However, the coffee sector includes lots of attractive alternatives, including two individual companies, a pure-play exchange-traded note (ETN) and a diversified exchange-traded fund (ETF) laced with a strong shot of java: 

  • Coffee Holding Co. Inc. (Nasdaq: JVA), recent price: $4.70: This New York-based wholesale coffee roaster and dealer is appealing because you can buy a share of the stock for roughly what a Venti Mocha Latte costs at SBUX. The stock is in the middle of its annual trading range, had earnings per share of 71 cents over the past 12 months, equating to a Price/Earnings (P/E) ratio of just 6.62, and even pays a 12-cent dividend, giving the stock a yield of 2.5%.
  • Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc. (Nasdaq: PEET), recent price: $35.30: This Calif! ornia-ba sed company roasts and markets whole bean coffee throughout the United States, with many locations sited in grocery stores and malls rather than standing alone. With a market cap of $461.6 million and earnings of $1.47 per share, PEET ranks as one of coffee's "Big Three," but offers far more potential than Starbucks at this point.
  • Barclays iPath DJ-UBS Coffee ETN (NYSEArca: JO), recent price: $48.40: This ETF tries to mirror the returns provided by unleveraged investment in coffee futures contracts, augmented by interest earned on collateral invested in specific U.S. Treasury bills.
  • PowerShares DB Agriculture Fund (NYSE: DBA), recent price: $26.10: This fund seeks to track the performance of the Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE: DB) Liquid Commodity Index, which is a basket of the most liquid and widely traded agricultural products, including corn, wheat, soybeans, coffee and sugar.
If coffee's too strong for your tastes, you can also opt for a nice warm cocoa ETN with a dollop of profit potential - or even a hot cup of soup:

  • Barclay PLC iPath DJ-UBS Cocoa ETN (NYSE: NIB), recent price: $41.60: Tracks the performance provided by unleveraged investment in NYMEX cocoa futures contracts, with returns augmented by interest earned on cash collateral invested in U.S. Treasury bills. Cocoa now goes for around $2,890 a metric ton, well below last winter's highs of $3,350.
  • Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE: CPB), recent price, $36.90: The king of the world soup market, Campbell Soup distributes product throughout the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, generating $7.9 billion in revenue over the past year. The company has a market cap of $12.53 b! illion, earnings per share (EPS) of $2.30 and pays a dividend of $1.10 (a 3.0% yield).

Ride High on Retailing

There are also a number of retail companies that usually tend to roll up higher sales and profit numbers during the winter. Some include:

  • Columbia Sportswear Co. (Nasdaq: COLM), recent price: $49.30: This Oregon-based company designs and sells outdoor apparel, including winter outerwear, sportswear and footwear. The company earned $2.02 a share. The shares are trading at a P/E of 24.10 and pay a 72-cent dividend, for a yield of 1.4%.
  • The Timberland Co. (NYSE: TBL), recent price: $17.93: A maker of snow boots and their rugged footwear, Timberland traded near $25 last January, having risen from just above $12 last fall - the kind of move this story's premise is based on. Persistent talk of a potential takeover by Nike Inc. (NYSE: NIKE) also helps support the stock. The trailing 12-month earnings per share were $1.13 and the stock features a P/E of 15.85; no dividend.
  • Tractor Supply Co. (Nasdaq: TSCO), recent price: $70.33: Most people think of Home Depot (NYSE: HD) or Lowe's Companies (NYSE: LOW) when shopping for winter tools, equipment and supplies, but Tractor Supply sells the same stuff - plus lots of items to help livestock and pets beat the weather. It operates more than 930 stores in 44 states, and last year's sales sent the stock from $44 in October to $60 in February. The stock may not do as well this year, though, since it hasn't given back any of those gains.
  • Avon Products Inc. (NYSE: AVP), recent price: $29.85: This might seem like a strange pick, but winter can wreak havoc on facial skin and hands, sucking moisture from the air and drying the delicate tissue. Avon products - including the high-margin Burt's Bees line,! which i t bought a couple of years back - restore the skin quite well and enjoy winter sales jumps as a result.
The only problem with the retail sector is that last year's success may dampen this year's prospects. Dr. Kent Moors, editor of Oil & Energy Investor newsletter and a frequent contributor to Money Morning, cautions that factors other than routine home-heating demand play a major role in setting prices.
As Dr. Moors pointed out: "I bought a new snow plow, stocked up on salt and got another parka during the winter of '09-10, so I don't need anything this year."

One area where last year's purchases didn't carry forward is in road maintenance. City, county and state highway departments had winter-related supplies almost entirely depleted by last year's demands, so they're heavily re-stocking such items as road salt and de-icing chemicals, which is good for the leader in this sector:

  • Compass Minerals International Inc. (NYSE: CMP), recent price $73.30: Compass produces salt and magnesium chloride for use by road crews. It also operates a rock-salt mine in Goderich, Ontario. The stock hit $82.65 last spring before demand eased off, taking the price down. But, if forecasts worsen, that trend could reverse just as quickly this fall.
Of course, not every fund or company that specializes in cold-weather products or services will move toward higher ground as temperatures drop - but a lot of them will. That makes the notion of doing some winter-oriented bargain hunting worth pursuing while it's still sizzling. Be aware, however, that this article covers a lot of ground and the prospects mentioned are just ideas, not recommendations. Space limitations also prevented including a lot of supporting data, so thoroughly check out the numbers for any of them before you actually invest.

RIMM: Jefferies Ups Target to $17 on Licensing Rumors

Jefferies & Co.’s Peter Misek this afternoon reiterated a Hold rating on Research in Motion (RIMM) shares, while taking his price target up to $17 from a prior $13.50, following an article this morning by Jonathan Geller over at TheBoyGenius suggesting RIM has been having talks with Samsung for some kind of probably is accurate in some regard.

Misek thinks RIM has indeed been “talking? to Samsung,” but he stops short of endorsing Geller’s angle that RIM is exploring the prospect of “an outright sale of or more divisions, or even the whole company.”

Rather, Misek thinks the more likely outcome is the scenario Geller’s colleague, Zach Epstein, laid out on January 5th, namely, to license its BlackBerry software.

Licensing has a “90% probability” of happening, writes Misek, without citing sources. He lays out his “best guess” as to the scenario:

We see a licensing deal announced within the next 3 months with actual BB 10 handsets out in CQ4. We see this gaining momentum on the appointment of a new Chairperson of the Board. We see Barbara Stymiest as the most likely person to become Chairperson of the Board. If she is appointed we would expect a strategic review and ultimately a major hardware restructuring. We see RIM licensing BB 10 and charging $10 per device. We believe this is the main way RIMM will be able to maintain its services revenues and build ecosystem momentum. We believe Samsung and HTC would do this to gain access to the RIM sub base. diversify away from sole dependence on Android, and create more enterprise exposure. BB 10 is effectively an Android derivative and therefore many bridges are possible.

It is the heightened possibility of a licensing deal that prompted Misek to raise his price target.

As U.S. benchmark WTI oil rises, refining is getting less profitable

Higher oil prices aren��t just hurting consumers, they��re also crimping profits for refiners operating in what’s known as the “downstream” sector of the energy market. Entering one of the worst refining environments in years, this group has recently begun to disappoint. With overall higher crude prices still on the horizon, analysts predict more disappointment for the sector for years to come.

Major integrated oil company Chevron (NYSE:CVX) was the latest firm to warn of lower profits due to shrinking margins in its refining operations. Its most recent interim update, issued last week, Chevron reported that it expects earnings for fourth-quarter 2011 to be significantly below third-quarter 2011 results. While its “upstream” — exploration and production (E&P) — earnings were comparable to the previous quarters, earnings for its downstream segment will barely break even.

The culprit: substantially falling Gulf Coast refining margins due to the price rises in the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude.

Firms operating in the downstream sector make money based on the difference between their crude oil costs versus what they can charge for refined products. For most refiners, oil inputs are priced in WTI oil. However, global gasoline pump prices are based on the price of the European standard, Brent crude.

WTI prices spent much of 2011 far below Brent prices due to the supply glut in Cushing, Okla., the primary oil storage facility in the U.S. Rapidly expanding oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale is to blame for that. However, Enbridge��s (NYSE:ENB) recent decision to reverse the direction of the Seaway pipeline has sent WTI crude prices upwards, narrowing the spread between the two oil measures. The WTI-Brent difference shank to only $8 a barrel at the end of the fourth quarter, down from around $26.

Since then, a! variety of downstream firms have reported or warned about weaker profit numbers. West Coast refiner Tesoro (NYSE:TSO), recentlysaid it will lose between 55 cents and 80 cents a share in the fourth quarter. Similarly, analysts expect both Valero (NYSE:VLO) and Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:MRO) to report dismal fourth-quarter earnings numbers.

Skip The Sector

While some analysts cite pure refining stocks, such as HollyFrontier (NYSE:HFC) as bargains now, I��m not so sure. In the end, refining is a very tough and margin-intensive sector to operate in. With a variety of plans to export crude from Cushing now in the works, the spread between WTI and Brent will ultimately narrow even more. (And both will continue their rise upwards.)

This is why many of the major integrated oil firms have begun to spin off or sell their refining operations. In July, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) was the latest to announce plans to spin off its downstream business, and Sunoco (NYSE:SUN) has been closing or selling off various refineries to focus on more profitable assets.

With refiners needing nearly perfect conditions to produce a real profit, the majority of market strategists predict that 2012 will be a tough year for the sector. Recently, Moody��s cut its outlook on the global refining and marketing sector to negative from stable.

So, investors may be wise to skip the sector completely or focus on the major integrated energy firms like Chevron. With this blip in earnings, it��ll interesting to see whether Chevron follows Conoco��s or Marathon��s lead and spins off its refining businesses.

Either way, long-term global demand for crude oil should help push up Chevron��s E&P earnings. Ultimately, strong revenues from its upstream business should help cushion weakness from the refining business, until any spin-off/asset sales are planned. For investors, that cushion c! an be qu ite valuable. Chevron shares have already recovered from their dip.

Still, with the WTI-Brent spread continuing to narrow, the refiners should see stifled gains throughout the year. That should be warning enough for investors.

Aaron Levitt doesn’t own any of the stocks mentioned here.

Coal Stumbles As Production Ramp Kicks In

In one of the classic trades in the energy sector, lower energy prices have dissuaded some investors from backing what had emerged as an increasingly appealing fundamental story for the coal sector, sending shares of several producers sharply lower.

Shares of Alpha Natural Resources (ANR)fell 6%, Massey Energy (MEE)lost 5%, and Peabody Energy (BTU)retreated6%, part of what has been a steeper selloff for the energy-related sector as investors turn morecircumspect about the prospectsfor the sector’s continued recovery.

Coal producers have taken their hit Monday as crude prices droppedback to $66 a barrel amid widespread concerns that the U.S. economy’s recovery willcome later and prove less powerful than someeconomists had been anticipating. Sluggish consumer demand in the U.S. has proved the key to the downbeat reaction toequities Monday, but it’s also hit parts of the marketwhere consumer demand is nothing more than a derivative of the demand picture.

Traditionally, as oil prices decline, coal producers suffer on expectations that consumers like utilities can be more-selective about thefuel sourceof choice.

The pullback in crude prices has come at an inauspicious time for coal producers, who, after months of sluggish output and idled plants, had begun to restart some capacity on expectations of increasing demand.

Keeping Tabs on Thailand: An Asian Tiger Lurking Low in the Reeds

Last week we talked about Singapore and Thailand - two Asian economies that are quietly taking off. Today I want to add to those thoughts with a few more key points that opportunistic U.S. investors should know about Thailand, in particular.

Over the weekend, the Thai currency, the baht, rose to its highest level since 1997 due to an improved outlook for economic growth and expectations of more investor inflows. A current-account surplus of $5.42 billion this year through July and the fact that the Bank of Thailand has raised its benchmark interest rate twice this year have also helped the baht post the second-best performance among Asia's most-traded currencies excluding the yen.

"There has been quite a lot of demand to buy the baht from offshore, probably from foreigners to buy Thai stocks and bonds," Kozo Hasegawa, a Bangkok-based foreign-exchange trader at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., told Bloomberg News. "Money is flowing into Asia on the region's strong economic outlook."

The rise in the currency has coincided with a 30% advance in Thailand's SET Index since May, when government troops smashed anti-government protests.

That advance is almost entirely from locals, because investments from the G3 countries - the United States, the Eurozone, and Japan - are at an 11-year low due to the political unrest of the spring. Overseas investors sold a record $1.81 billion of Thai stocks in May, when fighting between troops and anti-government protesters left 89 people dead. Barclays Capital reported that emerging-market funds have invested less in Thai stocks and bonds this year than any Asian market except Singapore.

Bloomberg reported that global funds are slowly creeping back, as they bought $298 million of Thai stocks last week. That was the biggest net purchase in almost six months, and it ! helped send the SET to its highest level since November 1996.

However, the market is still very cheap, sporting a forward price/earnings (P/E) multiple of around 11-times. Again, this is largely due to fears over the political climate. Also remember that the Thai market is only just emerging from a twelve-year bear cycle that began with the Asian currency crisis in 1997. It's also very thin, with a total market capitalization of less than $10 billion.

Still, Thailand's economy expanded 9.1% in the second quarter from a year earlier after gaining 12% in the previous three months, making for the best two quarters of growth since 1995.

And, as I pointed out last week, Thai companies are becoming globally competitive. The action in this market isn't just a paper-trading, stock-market phenomenon; it's real managers building real global businesses brick by brick.

And because of the recent political upheaval, many of the big financial players are underexposed to this dynamic economy.

KGI Securities reported that its foreign clients still had "slim" positions in Thailand, suggesting there is room for further inflows.

"With the political unrest, many foreign institutional investors are still underweight on Thailand," Jessada Sookdhis, a fund manager at Ayudhya Fund Management, told Bloomberg. "Since last month, we have seen comparatively higher inflows into Thailand. The political situation is very calm here now."

The Bottom Line: There's no bubble in Thailand, just some new attention in a thin market after a long period of avoidance. The iShares MSCI Thailand Index Fund (NYSE: THD) 20.3% is up 25% since the start of July. So stick with it for now, even if there's some volatility, as latecomers should continue to push values higher.

[Editor's Note: Money Morning Contributing Writer Jon D. Markman has a uni! que view of both the world economy and the global financial markets. With uncertainty the watchword and volatility the norm in today's markets, low-risk/high-profit investments will be tougher than ever to find.

It will take a seasoned guide to uncover those opportunities.

Markman is that guide.

In the face of what's been the toughest market for investors since the Great Depression, it's time to sweep away the uncertainty and eradicate the worry. That's why investors subscribe to Markman's Strategic Advantage newsletter every week: He can see opportunity when other investors are blinded by worry.

Subscribe to Strategic Advantage and hire Markman to be your guide. For more information, please click here.]

Japanese Stock Futures Fall as Euro Near 11-Year Low Against Yen

Japanese stock (MXAP) futures (TPX) dropped asthe euro traded near an 11-year low against the yen and a reportshowed German industrial production fell, adding to signs thedebt crisis may drag Europe into a recession.

American depositary receipts of Canon Inc. (7751), Japan��s biggestcamera maker that generates about one-third of its revenue inEurope, fell 0.5 percent from the closing share price in Tokyo.Those of Mitsubishi Corp. (8058), a Japanese trading company, slid 0.9percent after oil dropped. Pacific Brands Ltd. led Australianstocks higher after the nation��s biggest clothing maker said itwas discussing a buyout offer by New York-based KKR & Co.

Futures on Japan��s Nikkei 225 Stock Average (NKY) expiring inMarch were bid in the pre-market at 8,360 in Osaka at 8:05 a.m.local time compared with 8,390 in Osaka on Jan. 6. Japan��s stockmarket was closed for a public holiday yesterday. Australia��sS&P/ASX 200 Index rose 0.7 percent today. New Zealand��s NZX 50Index lost 0.3 percent in Wellington.

��The euro is likely to be in a downtrend while Europerelies on lending by the European Central Bank�� to shore up itseconomy, said Koichi Kurose, chief economist in Tokyo at ResonaBank Ltd., which oversees the equivalent of $68 billion. ��Thatwill weigh on Japanese equities.��

Futures on the Standard & Poor��s 500 Index (SPXL1) were littlechanged today. The index added 0.2 percent in New York yesterdayas European leaders discussed shoring up the region��s currencyand investors awaited the start of the fourth-quarter earningsseason.

German Production

German industrial production fell 0.6 percent in Novemberafter adding 0.8 percent in October, a report showed. The eurotouched 97.28 yen yesterday, the lowest level since December2000.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index (MXAP) gained 0.7 percent this yearthrough yesterday, compared with a 1.8 percent increase by theS&P 500 and a 0.8 percent gain by the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.Stocks in the Asian benchma! rk are v alued at 12 times estimatedearnings on average, compared with 12.2 times for the S&P 500and 9.8 times for the Stoxx 600.

Chinese stocks traded in the U.S. rose, led by Yanzhou CoalMining Co. and Mindray Medical International Ltd., onspeculation looser lending conditions may boost companyearnings. The Bloomberg China-US 55 Index advanced 1.2 percentto 99.75 as trading closed in New York, taking its increase thisyear to 4.1 percent.

Oil for February delivery fell 25 cents to $101.31 a barrelon the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement of2012.

Top picks 2012: Tesla Motors

Timothy LuttsWhile Toyota has blanketed the U.S. with milquetoast hybrid Priuses, and the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are uninspiring ��appliances,�� Tesla (TSLA) has done something different.

It has built electric cars that are thrilling to drive. And from its headquarters in Silicon Valley, it's been acting like a high-tech company! And why not, considering that co-founder and current CEO Elon Musk made his fortune by selling PayPal to eBay for $1.5 billion?!

Musk looms large in the story because he used much of his own money to bankroll the project, supplemented in time by money from private investors��as well as $465 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Last year��s IPO was just the latest chapter of financing, and possibly the last. From the beginning, the goal of the company has been to create and sell affordable mass-market vehicles that would have a material impact on oil consumption. But Tesla hasn't yet targeted the mass market!

Its first step was to build and sell two-seat electric sports cars costing $109,000. It's sold more than 2,000 of these Roadsters (in 30 countries) and will stop after 2,500.
The revenues from that effort are driving work on the company's next car, the Model S, a sedan that sells for $57,400.

Tesla has already taken reservations for more than 6,000, and will begin deliveries in mid-2012. It also expects to offer an SUV (Model X) based on the same platform, and begin deliveries of those in 2014.

And the profits from those cars will fund development of a mass-market car, priced around $30,000, which will compete with the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus.

This strategy mimics the way successful Silicon Valley companies launch products; hit the rich early adopters! first, then drive costs down to serve the mass market.

Furthermore, Tesla has boosted its cash flow by inking major deals with Daimler and Toyota for its proprietary powertrain systems ... which tells me these components are the best!

Not only does Tesla have revolutionary technology, it also (unlike most car companies) has little debt and a young, bright work force, and no retirees with costly pensions!

The company's revenues were $15 million in 2008, $112 million in 2009 and $117 million in 2010. 2012 could bring in $550 million, as the Model S hits the streets.

And Musk promises a profit in 2013! TSLA came public in June 2010 at 17, peaked at 36 in November 2010, and has been consolidating that gain since then, restrained in part by the weak broad market.

More recently, the story of fires in the batteries of (intentionally) crashed Chevy Volts may have held the stock down.

But that��s short-term, and I interpret it as a buying opportunity. Long-term, I rate Tesla as one of the stars of the present-day automotive revolution and a high-potential long-term investment.

Facebook settles FTC charges over 2009 privacy breaches

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Facebook has agreed to 20 years of privacy audits to settle a lengthy complaint from the Federal Trade Commission, which says Facebook misled its members about its use of their private data.

Facebook "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public," the FTC said in its complaint.

The complaint cites several examples of alleged false promises from Facebook, most of which took place several years ago. One example: In December 2009, Facebook changed its website so that some information that users had shared with a private group of friends was made public -- and users weren't warned about the change.

These events "were unfair and deceptive, and violated federal law," the FTC said.

"Facebook's innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a prepared statement.

Under the terms of the settlement, Facebook will have to undergo a third-party privacy audit every two years for the next 20 years. Twitter and Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) have recently signed similar deals with the FTC.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg commented on the FTC settlement in a Facebook blog post on Tuesday afternoon.

"Overall, I think we have a good history of providing transparency and control over who can see your information," he wrote. "That said, I'm the first to admit that we've made a bunch of mistakes. In particular, I think that a small number of high profile mistakes, like Beacon four years ago and poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago, have often overshadowed much of the good work we've done."

Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, called Zuckerberg's post "a good sign" in comments during a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

"He admits mistakes," Leibowitz said on the call. "That can only! be good for consumers."

But Leibowitz ducked a reporter's question about why, if Zuckerberg was admitting mistakes, the FTC settlement did not include an admission of guilt.

The FTC does not have the ability to levy a monetary fine for violations, but it can do so if Facebook disobeys the order -- to the tune of $16,000 per day.

A reporter asked the FTC whether Facebook could be fined for "violating the spirit of the order" -- for example, changing privacy settings for a site feature that isn't expressly named in the complaint.

"It's a little bit hypothetical, but the order is very broad about deception," Leibowitz said.

He later added: "Nothing is absolutely certain, but we believe this provides a very good level of privacy protection going forward."

Facebook also on Tuesday named two executives to new roles focused on privacy.

Erin Egan will become the company's chief privacy officer in charge of policy, while Michael Richter will become Facebook's chief privacy officer in charge of products. The company's former privacy chief, Chris Kelly, left Facebook last year during his failed run for attorney general in California.

The moves come as Facebook begins opening a new Pandora's box of privacy issues.

In September, Facebook began rolling out new features that let "social apps" broadcast every interaction users have with them. The apps are opt-in, but few users read the fine print or adjust the default settings. Many have been surprised to find applications like Spotify and the Washington Post broadcasting every song they stream or story they read.

At this year's F8 conference, Facebook's annual gathering for developers, Zuckerberg laid out his vision of a Facebook that records and transmits every detail of its members' lives: "Your runs, your bike rides, your cooking and eating, your sleeping, your happiness, your fashion -- anything you want."  

Changes in thinking about retirment housing

The latest Del Webb survey of baby boomers and their attitudes about retirement housing is set to drop, and (unsurprisingly) big changes have occured.

According to MarketWatch's Steve Kerch, "If your idea of a dream retirement home is a luxury contemporary overlooking a championship golf course in the desert, you better be prepared for some mighty small block parties: When it comes to retirement living, golf courses are out."

What kind of houses will be in demand among those 55 and older? Kerch reoprts on a consumer survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders. The most important design features that 55+ buyers want in their homes center on the practical:

  • Washers and dryers in their units

  • Storage space

  • Windows that open easily

  • Garage-door openers

  • Easy-to-use thermostats

  • First-floor master bedrooms

  • Private patios

  • Porches

  • Attached garages

  • Bigger bathrooms

  • Island work areas

  • Separate showers

  • Private toilet compartments

  • Sun rooms

  • Woodburning fireplaces

  • Exercise rooms

But a number of items that home buyers overall don't find to be of much interest are much more popular with older buyers. According to Kerch, these include:

  • Bathroom aids such as grab bars

  • Kitchen aids

  • Light home-repair services

  • Outdoor maintenance services

  • An entrance without steps

  • Accessible public transportation

  • Wider doorways

  • Nonslip flooring

Hot Casino Stock Review; MGM Resorts

MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) is one of the world's leading global hospitality companies with a portfolio of destination resort brands, including Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage. The company? owns and operates 15 properties located in Nevada, Mississippi and Michigan, and has 50% investments in four other properties in Nevada, Illinois and Macau.

MGM was no exception to the negative impact of the recession on the overall casino industry as consumers pulled back on entertainment spending and travel. MGM previously labeled 2010 as a transitional year in regards to its balance sheet and liquidity, in which the company placed a tighter focus on its new customer loyalty program, M life, to drive continued business.

MGM chairman and CEO Jim Murren said the company is encouraged by the 2011 business activity thus far, and that bookings are ahead of last year.

The company significantly improved its financial position by extending the maturity of its $3.5 billion credit facility to 2014 and raising an additional $3?billion of debt and equity capital during 2010. In addition, MGM Macau, which is 50% owned by the company, entered into a new $950 million senior secured credit facility in August?2010 and CityCenter Holdings LLC, which is also 50% owned by the company, recently extended the maturity of $500?million of its credit facility and raised $1.5?billion of senior secured first lien and second lien notes.

"We made significant improvements to our balance sheet during the year, raising capital and extending our debt maturities at MGM Resorts, MGM Macau and CityCenter, providing us with a strong liquidity profile," Dan D'Arrigo, MGM executive vice president and CFO stated in an earlier press release. "We remain focused on continuing to strengthen our balance sheet, growing our cash flows and positioning our resort portfolio for future growth."

For the fourth quarter 2010, the company reported a net loss of $(139.19 million) or $(0.29) per share from $(433.9! 2 millio n) or $(0.98) per share in the year-ago period. The latest quarter’s results include a reduction of $0.07 per share in the company’s income tax benefit as a result of providing reserves for certain state-level deferred tax assets. The last year’s results include impairment charges totaling $548 million or $0.73 per share related to the company’s undeveloped land holdings in Atlantic City.

The company reported quarterly revenues of $1.47 billion, an increase from $1.45 billion last year. The net revenues excluding reimbursed costs decreased 1% year-over-year.? The Casino revenues stood at $608.80 million, a decrease of 3% with slots revenue increasing 2% and table games revenue down 11%. The Rooms revenue decreased 5% to $309.74 million, excluding the impact of resort fees. The Las Vegas Strip occupancy was down to 84% from 86%, while average daily rate or ADR was flat with the year-ago period at $110. The revenue per available room or REVPAR was down 2%.

For the full year, the company reported net loss of $1.44 billion, again an increase from $1.29 billion in the previous year. On a per share basis, loss reduced to $3.19 as compared to $3.41 in the prior year mainly due to higher number of weighted average shares outstanding. The net revenues for the year were $6.02 billion, an increase from $5.98 billion last year.

MGM Resorts International stock is currently trading at $12.96. The stock is down 0.92% from its previous close. MGM Resorts International stock touched the high of $12.99 and lowest price in today's session is $12.84.

The company stock has traded in the range of $8.92 and $16.94 during the past 52 weeks. The company's market cap is $6.33 billion.

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2010 Q4 Earnings: ING Profits Continue Recovery but Miss Estimates

ING Group NV reported fourth-quarter profits on Wednesday of $586.5 million, $0.14 per share, compared with $1.4 billion in the third quarter, and a loss of $964.4 million in the same quarter last year. For the full year, net profits rose to $5.3 billion from $1.3 billion in 2009.

Income fell short of expectations from analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, who estimated income of $727.4 million for the bank.

“ING made good progress in 2010 as we prepare to create strong stand-alone companies for banking and insurance,” said Jan Hommen, CEO of ING Group, said in a statement.

"The Bank finished the year with another strong quarter, posting an underlying profit before tax of [$2.0 billion], almost on par with the very strong third quarter, despite seasonally lower Financial Markets results and a small up-tick in loan loss provisions after three quarters of declines," Hommen added.

The company will not pay a dividend over 2010 in light of "the financial environment, regulatory requirements and priority to repay Dutch State."

Pre-tax profits for the fourth quarter totaled $2.0 billion and the net interest margin increased 6 bps to 1.47% on healthy savings and lending margins. After falling for three quarters, risk costs increased 51 bps to $562.6 million.

The cost/income ratio for the fourth quarter improved to 57.2% from 74.5% in 2009. For the full year, the cost/income ratio improved to 56% from 68.7%.

The insurance segment posted an operating result of $593 million, up 44.6% on continued improvement in the investment spread which rose 93 bps. Higher fees from new sales and growth in assets under management also contributed to the segment's success, according to Hommen. Pre-tax income fell $934 million on a deferred-acquisition cost write-down of $1.3 billion in U.S. closed-block variable annuity.

“The measures taken to address the U.S. variable annuity block and the decision to bring the U.S. reporting more into line with U.S. peers should reduce earnings volatility from the U.S. Closed Block VA going forward."

Hommen noted that the insurance segment showed "early progress" on its performance improvement program, in spite of "challenging market circumstances."

"Theoperational separation of the Bank and Insurer was completed at year-end, with arms-length agreements in place between the two businesses for all commercial cooperation and shared infrastructure," Hommen said. "The focus for 2011 will be on preparing the Insurance company for two IPOs and working towards the repurchase of the remaining outstanding core Tier 1 securities from the Dutch State.”

Read about ING's third-quarter earnings.

Read AdvisorOne's 2010 Q4 earnings calendar for the financial sector for release dates and links to earnings stories.

Europe stocks snap four-day winning streak

Most European stocks edged lower Friday, snapping a four-session run of gains, as investors lost patience with Greek debt negotiations.

The Stoxx 600 XX:SXXP ?closed 0.3% lower at 255.85, ending with a weekly gain of 2.7%.

Click to Play

Is the U.S. market rally for real?

Does the U.S. markets have legs, amid unsettled news continuing to stream out of Europe?

Investors were closely following talks between the Greek government and private creditors, which continued on a third day in an effort to reach a crucial agreement to write down debt.

The talks broke down last Friday, raising concerns that Greece would miss another multibillion-euro bailout.

European markets spiked Friday afternoon on media reports that Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and global bank representatives had concluded their meeting and would resume Friday night. The two parties could agree to a coupon ranging between 3% and 5%, according to Greek media reports. No definite agreement was announced at market close and stocks pulled back in red for the weekend.

In Athens, the Greek ASE Composite GR:GD ?was up 2.7% at 708.18. outperforming the rest of the European stock market.

Broader-market decline

Optimism out of Athens was not, however, enough to pull the broader European market out of negative sentiment.

The Br! itish FT SE 100 UK:UKX fell 0.2% to 5,728.55 and the French CAC 40 FR:PX1 ?index was down 0.2% at 3,321.50, weighed down by SAFRAN S.A. FR:SAF , off 1.2%, and L��Oreal S.A., FR:OR ,?down 1.6%.

Morgan Stanley on Friday downgraded L��Oreal to equal weight from overweight, citing concerns about growth potential in 2012.

��We��re seeing a retraction. We have had a few good days, and it��s normal for the market to pull back after that,�� said Christoph Riniker, head of strategy research at Bank Julius Baer & Co.

Most European stock markets reached the highest level in five months on Thursday on the back of successful debt sales in the periphery, but further increases are unlikely in the near term, said Morten Kongshaug, chief strategist at Danske Bank.

��We have a little bit of an overbought stock market compared to what we see in credit markets. It has had a fairly good run and we have to see new triggers to gain the next 10%,�� he said. ��We��re getting close to peak levels of last summer and I imagine we would stay there for a period to gain a little more strength in the market.��

Oil shares weigh

Oil shares weighed particularly on the European market Friday, as crude-oil futures for February delivery ?edged back below $100 a barrel to $98.37. On Thursday, the price settled at $100.39 a barrel.

Stocks Still In The Black For The Week, Despite Friday’s Fall

Stocks fell across the board Friday, as investors fled from disappointing earnings from J.P. Morgan (JPM) and the ongoing turmoil in Europe, following Standard & Poor‘s downgrade of nine countries.

At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fell 48.96 points, or 0.39%, to 12422.06, recovering some ground after a triple-digit plunge earlier in the day. The S&P 500 (SPX) was off 6.41 points, or 0.49%, to 1289.09, and the Nasdaq (COMPQ) finished down 14.03 points, or 0.51%, to 2710.67.

Still, all three indexes logged their second week of gains in 2012: The Dow is up 0.5% since Monday, while the S&P gained 0.9% for the week and the Nasdaq moved up 1.4%.

Tebow-Mania Resurrects CBS Ratings

Tim Tebow��s last minute upset helped to boost CBS�� TV (NYSE:CBS) ratings on Sunday night. The Bronco��s starting quarterback is well-known for his Christian faith and his ability to excel at both passing and rushing to lead his team to late game wins. The Broncos won 29-23 over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first play of overtime in the National League��s wild card game Sunday evening.

The game brought in a 25.9 rating for CBS, the highest rated wild card game in 24 years. CBS also noted that the rating was 38% higher than the rating for the wild card game last year between Baltimore and Kansas City.

CBS is undoubtedly looking forward to the Bronco��s next game against the New England Patriots on Saturday which will also be aired on the network. The game��s draw will be a fierce quarterback match-up between Tim Tebow and Tom Brady. The Patriots are favored to win, but don��t count out Tebow as he usually has a few surprises up his sleeve.

Featured Reading: Goldman Sachs Could Double Its Assets By Acquiring Deutsche Bank>>

To contact the reporter on this story: Ashley Cloninger at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com

OSI (OSIP) Agrees to Astellas $4 Billion Offer Following 2 1/2-year Negotiation

Monday, May 17, 2010��Astellas Pharma Inc. reached agreement with the board of OSI Pharmaceutical Inc. (Nasdaq: OSIP) Monday to buy the U.S.-based oncology and diabetes drug maker in an all-cash deal valued at $4 billion.

Japan's second-largest pharmaceutical will pay $57.50 per OSI share following two-plus-years of negotiations, beginning December of 2008. Astellas' boosted offer from $52 per share clinched the deal, paving way for the deal to complete sometime mid-June.

"We believe today's announcement recognizes the significant value we have built for our stockholders while providing the merged companies the opportunity to forge a stronger collective path forward in a shared mission to provide innovative new medicines to patients around the world," OSI CEO Colin Goddard, said in a prepared statement.

Astellas' bid for OSI forwards the Japanese pharmaceutical's quest for expansion of its anti-cancer drug business worldwide. To this end, the acquisition of OSI's flagship anti-lung cancer drug Tarceva is expected to add $1.2 billion in global sales to Astellas' fiscal 2009 revenue of $9.9 billion.

"The merger with OSI provides Astellas with a top tier oncology platform in the U.S. and an expanded product portfolio and pipelines," Astellas' chief executive Masafumi Nogimori, said in a statement.

The deal is anticipated to alleviate Astellas' falling operating margin stemming from some portfolio drugs falling off patent. For instance, PROGRAF, the company's dermatological agent, registered sales of nearly $600 million in 2009 is set to expire March 2013.

Joint development between the two companies is expected in the oncology, diabetes and obesity areas��markets critical to Astellas' future revenue stream and operating margin.

OSI posted total revenue of $429 million in 2009, attributing more than 80 per cent of sales related to Tarceva. In April, OSI and partner Switzerland-based ! Roche Ph armaceutical received approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market Tarceva for the treatment of lung cancer.

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Singapore Exchange, China Sky in Courtroom ¡®Test of Wills¡¯

Singapore Exchange (SGX), where 40 percentof listed firms are based outside the city state, is going tocourt to enforce its listing rules for the first time after aChinese company ignored a deadline to appoint a special auditor.

The exchange sued China Sky Chemical Fibre Co. and four ofits Chinese directors on Jan. 6 to compel the Quanzhou City,Fujian-based company to have a special auditor investigate��interested party transactions,�� a failed land acquisition andcertain costs. A closed hearing was held today.

��This is the first time that a company has been sodefiant,�� said Lan Luh Luh, an associate professor at theNational University of Singapore��s business school. ��They��retesting the will and limits of the SGX. All eyes are on SGX tosee the extent of its enforcement.��

Singapore investors have pressed for tougher rules asaccounting scandals have wiped out the market values of China-based firms from New York to Hong Kong, including Sino-ForestCorp. (TRE) and FerroChina Ltd (FRC). Singapore Exchange, Southeast Asia��sbiggest bourse by the value of shares traded, accused China Skyof ��flagrant disregard�� of its directive.

China Sky, in minutes of a Dec. 24 meeting in Singaporebetween its Chief Executive Officer Huang Zhong Xuan andLawrence Wong from the bourse, submitted to the exchange thatsome of its demands ��were extremely unreasonable.�� China Skyreleased the minutes of the meeting in a statement to theSingapore Exchange.

��Bullied Child��

��Huang told them that the company��s position was similarto that of a bullied child,�� according to the minutes.

Joan Lew, a spokeswoman for Singapore Exchange, declined tocomment on the case today because it��s before the courts.

��The board of directors may need more time to be able togive me meaningful instructions on how to respond to the presentproceedings,�� China Sky��s lawyer, Leonard Chia, said today.

Trading in China Sky shares has been suspended since Nov.17, a day after the exch! ange fir st ordered the company toappoint the special auditor. The shares had tumbled 96 percentfrom their peak of S$2.74 in October 2007.

The watchdog and China Sky have issued 25 regulatoryfilings since the Nov. 16 directive. All three independentdirectors at the nylon fiber maker quit on Jan. 5, citing non-compliance with the exchange��s order.

There��ve been no further statements since SingaporeExchange started legal proceedings on Jan. 6.

Spirit ��Beyond Form��

��Issuers must comply with the listing rules in accordancewith the spirit, intention and purpose by looking beyond form tosubstance,�� Lorraine Chay, vice president of the exchange��sissuer regulation unit, said in a 640-page court filing. Theexchange is seeking a court order for China Sky to follow itsdirective and get its approval for board hires.

Refusing to heed a court order would be in contempt ofcourt, which carries a jail term, a fine or both. No maximumpenalty has been specified under Singapore��s constitution.

Er Kwong Wah, Lai Seng Kwoon and Yeap Wai Kong, the threeSingaporean independent directors who quit on Jan. 5, declinedto comment on China Sky��s dispute with the exchange, saying itwas ��inappropriate.��

In March, a Singapore court sentenced Peter Madhavan, aformer independent director at Singapore-based freight forwarderAirocean Group Ltd., to four months in prison for his role inissuing a misleading regulatory filing. He was the firstindependent director to be jailed.

Increased Scrutiny

Chinese firms listed on overseas exchanges including NorthAmerica and Hong Kong have come under increased scrutiny fromregulators and investors. In Singapore, at least 20 Chinesefirms on the city��s S$775.8 billion ($600 billion) stock markethave been suspended or ordered to delist since 2008.

The FTSE Strait Times China Index (FSTC) of 53 Chinese stockstumbled 33 percent last year, compared with a 17 percent fall onthe benchmark Straits Times Index.

Shares of Singapore ! Exchange Ltd. fell 2.2 percent toS$6.10 at the close of trading today. The bourse reported a 12percent fall in net income for the three months ended Decembertoday as daily trading volumes plunged 37 percent.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has set up atask force to look for fraud in overseas companies, specificallyfrom China, with listings on U.S. exchanges, and in 2010 began aprobe asking auditors for information on audit practices of suchcompanies.


Shanghai-based Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu CPA Ltd. wasordered this month to appear in a U.S. court after rejecting aSEC demand for documents related to an investigation of itsformer client Longtop Financial Technologies Ltd. (LGFTY)

Deloitte & Touche LLP in Singapore had recommended that itsclient China Sky hire an external consultant, supporting theexchange��s view that special auditors should be appointed,according to Singapore Exchange��s court filing.

Doreena Tong, a Singapore-based spokeswoman at Deloitte,declined to comment on China Sky, citing client confidentiality.China Sky��s net income rose 87 percent to 111.1 million yuan($17.6 million) for the nine months ended Sept. 30.

��The company��s financial statements have been audited by aBig Four accounting firm and the company has been receiving aclean bill of health since IPO to date,�� China Sky��s lawyerChia said in a Dec. 8 letter to the exchange, according to courtfilings. ��The directive was issued with no apparent regard forthe various explanations and clarifications painstakinglyprovided to you.��

��Inadvertent Lapses��

The next day, the Chinese firm sent a letter to theexchange��s Chay saying while there��ve been ��inadvertentdisclosure lapses, it is never the intention of the company tohide or deliberately misinform the investing public.��

China Sky had devoted substantial time and resources toanswer the regulator��s queries, which has been ��mostdisruptive�� to its operations and distracted it in ��thisdifficul! t time,� � the company said in the letter signed byHuang, its CEO and largest shareholder with a 37.8 percentstake.

Guoco Group Ltd. (53), the second-largest investor in China Skywith a 10.3 percent stake, ��strongly urges the board tospeedily resolve and to comply�� with the exchange��s directive,said Stella Lo, a Guoco spokeswoman. Hong Kong-based Guoco iscontrolled by Malaysian billionaire Quek Leng Chan.

��China Sky and its directors should act promptly to complywith their listing obligations in the interests of allshareholders,�� said the Monetary Authority of Singapore, thecapital markets regulator with oversight of the exchange.

��It clearly indicates that the Singapore Exchange isprepared to do what is within its powers to make companiescomply,�� said Lock Yin Mei, who advises on initial publicofferings at London-based law firm Allen & Overy LLP��s Singaporeoffice. ��Listed companies should take heed.��

The case is Singapore Exchange Securities Trading Ltd. vChina Sky Chemical Fibre Co. (CSCF), Huang Zhong Xuan, Cheung Wing Lin,Song Jian Sheng and Wang Zhi Wei OS11/2012 in the Singapore HighCourt.

Caterpillar’s Sales Reading Adds To Confusion

Trying to nail down the fundamentals at Caterpillar (CAT)has been a lotlike trying to nailJell-o toa wall. The mixed messages from – and about – the company have been coming hard and fast.

When it released earnings last month, it recorded one of the biggest measures of out-performance relative to expectations,for the second-quarter reporting period: 72 cents a share, more than three times the 22 cents analysts anticipated. Itraised its earnings guidance – to an unthinkably wide range of $1.15 to $2.25 a share – and talked about stabilization.

But it also cut its revenue guidance and talked about the prospect that third-quarter sales would likelybe theweakest of 2009. The day before the earnings came out, Bank of America / Merrill Lynch, in an upbeat note about Cat, said salesbottomed in the second quarter. Since the analyst’s remarks, the stock has soared 32%.

Rhetoric aside, hard numbers don’t support the optimism. Caterpillar reporteddata Thursday that indicated retail sales fell sharply as recently as July.

According to the report, worldwide machinery sales dropped 48% in teh three-month period ended in July, versus year-earlier figures. That compared with a 47% decline in worldwide sales for the three months ended in June, and 43% in the three months finishing in May.

Clearly, investors interpreted the various comments – from the analyst’sreport to the boost in earnings guidance to thecompany’s musings about trends – asconstructive. And even after the sales report Thursday, shares continued to trade narrowly higher, up 1% on the session.