Global business briefs from the Economist

  • Updated: April 28, 2014 - 5:39 PM
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FILE - This Tuesday, July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook reports quarterly earnings on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Global business

Dealmaking in the drug industry excited the markets. The offer that raised most eyebrows was a $46 billion unsolicited joint bid for Allergan, the maker of Botox, from Bill Ackman, an activist investor, and Valeant, a drugs firm that last year bought Bausch + Lomb. Ackman’s hedge fund has accumulated a 10 percent stake in Allergan over recent months.

Other notable pharma deals included a three-part transaction between GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, valued at around $20 billion, by which GSK is selling its cancer treatments to Novartis in return for its vaccines business. In a busy week for Novartis, it sold its animal-health business to Eli Lilly for $5.4 billion. But all of the above could be upstaged by Pfizer’s approach to AstraZeneca about a takeover, which, at $100 billion, could be the biggest to date in the industry.

After weeks of intrigue, Pavel Durov, a Russian tech entrepreneur, was dislodged as chief executive of VKontakte, the biggest social network among Russian-speakers and widely used by anti-Putin protesters. Durov had tendered his resignation in March, complaining that he was being hampered by a private-equity firm in Moscow that bought a 48 percent stake in VK last year, but he withdrew his notice to quit shortly afterward, saying “I’m not going anywhere.” He is said to have now left Russia.

America’s tech giants reported their earnings for the latest quarter. Facebook’s revenue soared by 72 percent compared with the same period last year, as sales from advertising on mobile devices, which used to be a source of concern for investors, continued to climb. Net profit rose to $642 million. Google reported net income of $3.5 billion and a healthy increase in revenue, to $15.4 billion. But its operating costs soared, partly because of its expansion into data services, and its Internet-ads business did not do as well as expected.

Apple made a $10.2 billion profit in the quarter, bolstered by strong sales of the iPhone, especially in China, a relatively new market for Apple. The iPad did less well; sales were down by 16 percent. Acknowledging calls for it to return more of its cash pile to shareholders, Apple raised its stock buyback plan by $30 billion, to $90 billion, and upped its dividend by 8 percent. It also announced a seven-for-one stock split, an unusually high ratio, which will happen in June.

Netflix, which streams films and TV programs via the Internet, became the first big company to oppose the planned megamerger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, arguing that their combination would end up controlling broadband access in 60 percent of U.S. households.

Numericable, a French telecom company, issued a record $10.9 billion in junk bonds, which provide better yields to investors than investment-grade bonds but also carry a higher risk of default. Numericable will use the proceeds to fund its acquisition of SFR, which it is buying from Vivendi.

Boeing reported a solid set of quarterly earnings, with revenue up by 19 percent at its commercial-aircraft division (sales were down in its defense and space businesses, reflecting weaker government spending). Underlining the growing demand for air travel, especially in Asia, Boeing expects to deliver up to 725 passenger jets this year, which would beat its record last year of 648.

The Obama administration said it would delay (again) its final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Alberta’s oil sands to Nebraska and on to the Gulf Coast. A resolution on the controversial project, which is unpopular with greens but supported by some unions, may not come until the midterm elections in November are out of the way.

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  • Ackman, president of Pershing Square Capital Management, speaks during the Value Investing Congress in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007. Ackman, whose hedge fund has short positions on bond insurers, said he will make ‘’hundreds of millions of dollars’’ on his bets and plans to donate the proceeds to charity. Photographer: Daniel Barry/Bloomberg News ORG XMIT: MIN2013031418515334

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