Not Good Enough
The first wave of quarterly earnings reports found profits up smartly in metals and travel and financial services, but not enough to justify the prices of many high-tech stocks. The tech-rich Nasdaq has fallen 8 percent so far in July, while mutual funds reported outflows and the Treasury said foreigners were net sellers of U.S. stocks last quarter. Also depressing the markets: $40-a-barrel oil that is crimping retail spending and adding to the woes of an auto industry already burdened with too many unsold cars.
Eyes for MCI
Leucadia, a financial holding company with an eye for underpriced assets, sought regulatory clearance to buy half of MCI, which only recently emerged from bankruptcy. MCI said no talks are underway, but at least one major shareholder said it would explore selling its stake. While the stock market values the phone giant at $5.5 billion, Leucadia may see additional value in MCI's $4 billion in cash and $15 billion in unused tax credits, along with its strong Internet network and long list of higher-margin corporate customers.
Two companies settled sex discrimination cases. Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $54 million to women in one division who claimed they were systemically denied promotions. The deal with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission came hours before arguments were to begin in a case that would have highlighted continued male dominance on Wall Street. And Boeing will pay $72.5 million to settle a suit filed by female employees who say they were denied raises and promotions.
Betting on the Strip
Harrah's Entertainment decided to double down, agreeing to purchase Caesars Entertainment in a $9 billion deal. The merger would combine Harrah's riverboat and Indian reservation casinos with Caesars' fabled but underperforming properties on the Las Vegas Strip. The announcement came less than a month after MGM Mirage announced its purchase of the Mandalay Resort Group, creating the world's largest casino company. The Federal Trade Commission will now review both deals.
The Fix Is . . . Out
DeBeers admitted it conspired with General Electric in the 1990s to fix the price of industrial diamonds. The guilty plea and $10 million fine effectively close out a 10-year Justice Department investigation that has prevented executives from the world's largest diamond company from traveling to the United States without fear of arrest. GE was acquitted of the charges years ago. Meanwhile, Bayer pleaded guilty to conspiring with rivals to fix the price of industrial chemicals. The German company was fined $66 million.