Business recap: Facebook profit off as it shifts toward mobile

February 2, 2013

Facebook reported a plunge in fourth-quarter profit — down 79 percent to $64 million — on higher spending, even while it made long-awaited progress luring advertisers eager to reach mobile-device users. ¶ Its revenue climbed 40 percent, and it doubled its mobile advertising from the previous quarter. ¶ Operating expenses jumped 82 percent. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg plans to increase expenses, excluding certain costs, 50 percent this year to hire staff and roll out new tools for advertisers. That’s more than the 33 percent increase projected by Pacific Crest Securities, and it underscores the urgency of capturing a bigger slice of the $6.97 billion U.S. mobile-ad market. Facebook shares closed Friday at $29.73.

Business

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev’s merger with Mexico’s largest maker, Grupo Modelo, was thrown a hurdle by the Justice Department, which sued to block the $20.1 billion deal, saying it would threaten competition and raise prices for consumers.

Boeing said it was sticking with the troubled lithium-ion battery technology that this month grounded its high-tech 787 Dreamliners, and that the grounding had no significant financial impact on the company’s 2013 forecast. Chief executive Jim McNerney said it was “business as usual” and that Boeing had not advised suppliers to slow shipments.

Apple failed to persuade a U.S. appeals court to review its decision that allows Samsung Electronics to continue selling the Galaxy Nexus smartphone while a patent-infringement case is pending.

Chesapeake Energy, battling a governance crisis and financial strain, said its chief executive, Aubrey McClendon, will leave the company April 1. McClendon, 53, is under scrutiny from federal regulators and his board for blurring the line between his personal dealings and those of the company.

Time Inc., the magazine unit of Time Warner, said it is cutting 6 percent of its global staff of 8,000, or about 500 people. The unit publishes Fortune, People, Real Simple, Sports Illustrated and Time.

BP won final approval of a $4 billion guilty plea that resolves all criminal charges against the firm related to the 2010 gulf oil spill.

Chevron was fined nearly $1 million by California in connection with a fire at the company’s San Francisco Bay-area refinery last year.

Investors who said they lost money in Bernard L. Madoff’s fraud may not pursue a lawuit against the Securities and Exchange Commision for missing the swindler’s Ponzi scheme, a federal appeals court said.

Toyota released its tally for global sales for last year at a record 9.748 million vehicles, enough to dethrone General Motors (with 9.29 million).

Barnes & Noble expects to shrink to 450 to 500 stores in a decade. It has 689 now.

J.C. Penney is bringing back sales after ditching them last year and switching to an everyday low-price strategy.

Apple debuted an iPad with twice the memory — 128 gigabytes — of older models, offering users more space to store movies, videos and books.

Research in Motion unveiled new BlackBerrys in a last-ditch effort to regain relevance, and said it is changing the company’s name to BlackBerry.

Deals

Wanxiang Group, China’s biggest auto-parts maker, won approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment to buy most of the assets of A123 Systems, the bankrupt maker of electric-car batteries that was backed with federal funds, for about $256.6 million.

United Bankshares agreed to buy Arlington-based Virginia Commerce Bancorp in a deal valued at $490.6 million.

Earnings

Aetna’s fourth-quarter profit fell 49 percent to $190.1 million.

Amazon.com profit shrank 45 percent, to $97 million.

Boeing profit dropped 30 percent, to $978 million, but it beat expectations.

Chevron posted fourth-quarter profit of $7.25 billion, a record.

Chrysler made $1.7 billion last year, thanks to gains for its much-improved cars and trucks. And it is expecting profits to reach $2.2 billion this year.

ConocoPhillips profit fell 58 percent, to $1.43 billion.

Exxon Mobil posted fourth-quarter profit of $9.95 billion, a five-year high. Its full-year profit rose 9.3 percent to $44.88 billion, or $340 million shy of the U.S. profit record the company set in 2008 when it raked in $45.22 billion.

Ford earned better-than-expected profits of $5.66 billion in 2012 as results in North America trumped losses in Europe.

Hershey profit climbed 5.6 percent, to $150 million.

JetBlue profit dropped 96 percent, to $1 million.

LivingSocial, the D.C.-based purveyor of daily deals, recorded a net loss of $650 million for 2012.

MasterCard’s fourth-quarter profit climbed 18 percent, to $605 million.

Pfizer’s profit soared to $6.32 billion, compared with $1.44 billion a year ago.

Royal Dutch Shell profit was up 15 percent, to $5.6 billion.

UPS lost $1.75 billion in the fourth quarter, citing a pension-related charge.

Yahoo said profit dropped 8 percent, to $272.3 million.

Economy

The Federal Reserve concluded its first policy meeting of the year and elected to go with continuity rather than any major changes to its policy stance. Recognizing a “pause” in the economy, the Fed said the causes were temporary but that it would keep buying bonds and keep its target interest rate near zero.

Gross domestic product fell at a 0.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the first contraction since 2009.

Employers added 157,000 jobs in January, in line with analyst expectations. The January jobless rate ticked up to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent, however, as both the number of people reporting having a job and the number looking for one edged up.

U.S. stocks rallied, sending the Dow above 14,000 for the first time in five years, as data on the labor market and manufacturing boosted confidence in the world’s biggest economy.

The Medicare system is recalculating its reimbursements to hospitals and clinics for dialysis drugs after auditors found that it overpaid by as much as $880 million annually for them.

Washington

The Treasury approved pay packages of more than $3 million for the senior ranks of three bailed-out companies, a watchdog report said.

Transitions

Google released its first detailed map of North Korea, labeling everything from Pyongyang’s subway stops to the country’s several city-size gulags.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who won a Nobel Prize in physics and then came under questioning for his handling of a solar energy loan, is stepping down.

Ray LaHood, who advocated against cellphone use while driving, will step down as transportation secretary.

Federal Trade Commission chief Jon Leibowitz will leave, sharpening an already spirited succession battle.

An Aston Martin DB5 discovered after three decades in an old garage with a mouse nest in its engine bay is estimated to sell for $300,000.

— From The Washington Post and news services

$858 million
bids for Hostess Brands assets

Chief executive Greg Rayburn said initial or stalking-horse bids for assets of the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonder bread total $858 million, with about $100 million more for sale. The amount is almost double a 2011 estimated value of $450 million mentioned. A judge would have to approve the final sale.

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