Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Notablecalls - Paperstand

The WSJ's "Heard on the Street" column discusses Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and its CEO, Peter Dolan. During his 5 years as CEO, Mr. Dolan has overcome a series of controversies, ranging from a financial scandal to research failures and questionable deals. But some shareholders aren't inclined to let Mr. Dolan off the hook for the co's latest setback: the loss of marketing exclusivity over its best-selling drug, the blood thinner Plavix, 5 years ahead of schedule. Complaints about Mr. Dolan have surfaced often during his tenure, and the board has always steadfastly stood behind him. Directors believe the CEO fixed his inherited problems, bolstered internal controls and amassed a strong research pipeline. Nor do board members expect anything will result from the FBI's surprise raid. The co issued a statement from Bristol-Myers Chmn James D. Robinson III saying Mr. Dolan "has the full and complete confidence of the Board." Article highlights statements by several unsatisfied investors, some of them former BMY workers.

According to the WSJ, Morningstar (MORN), disclosed that 9 co insiders were currently in trading plans to sell some of the co's stock. Chmn and CEO Joe Mansueto had announced his sales plan in a letter to shareholders earlier this year, and he hinted then that other Morningstar managers might follow suit.

Barron's Online highlights Allstate (ALL), which currently is in a price war with other insurers. The battles are everywhere. Geico's trademark gecko boasted cheap prices this week from a banner pulled by a small plane near Wall Street's canyons. A Progressive (PGR) Web ad offered this stark observation: You have no idea what your car insurance should cost. None of this bodes well for the future of Allstate shares, which are up 4% since the beginning of the year, a better performance than some competitors. Allstate, moreover, is dropping some hurricane policies and paying more than $800m to transfer remaining hurricane risk to reinsurers. To replace that rev, Allstate needs new low-risk, low-cost customers, especially in auto insurance, its bread-and-butter business. And as direct-sales competitors with fewer agents and lower costs slash premiums, Allstate must respond and its '06 earnings could represent a cyclical peak. So while Allstate shares may still look cheap, they could be dead money in the near term. "Allstate has unsustainably high returns on equity" as rivals "offer deeper discounts and more coverage for less," says Joshua Shanker, a Citigroup analyst who recently downgraded Allstate shares.

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