Wednesday, September 20, 2006


According to the WSJ's "Heard on the Street" column, after shunning potential suitors for much of the past 2 years, Marsh&McLennan (MMC) has begun soliciting offers for its struggling money-mgmt unit, Putnam Investments. But a sale is far from a sure thing b/c the co is keeping its options open. Marsh could decide to spin off the unit to shareholders, which would save it a big tax bill. Or it could hang on to the purveyor of Putnam mutual funds if bids are underwhelming. A sale could raise $3-4bn, according to previous analyst ests and ppl close to the situation.

Barron's Online suggests that the storm that has blown energy prices back from their recent peak has created a new opportunity in the oil-field-services sector. Crude-oil prices have tumbled about 20% from their mid-July high to near $62 per barrel. The result scared away some speculative energy investors, but the earnings cycle has not ended for large services-and-drilling co's with long-term, deepwater projects that continue even if oil prices fall below $50. Among them are driller Transocean (RIG), whose shares have fallen 8% since mid-July, and big equipment-and-services provider Weatherford Intl. (WFT), whose stock has fallen more than 17% in that period. These co's are being paid by major international explorers to get oil and gas out of the ground. And those projects are budgeted to be profitable with oil prices well below the 6-month $65 avg projected by the futures mkt. Unlike oil and gas producers, "the service names don't own reserves so they are priced on capital spending in the business, which is trending up even if commodity prices are coming down," says John Segner, manager of the AIM Energy Fund. Behavioral finance strategist Woody Dorsey summed up the current unpopularity of the oil-services stocks in his latest Market Semiotics newsletter: "They loved them in May, but no one wants them now. What, has winter been called off?"

According to the WSJ's "Insider Track" section and Barron's Online "Inside Scoop" section, inexpensive clothes aren't the only things flying off the shelves at TJX (TJX) these days. Insiders at the co have sold more than $40m of stock this month. The stock sales are the largest by TJX insiders in any given month for at least the past 6 years, but analysts say the selling spree isn't a sufficient reason for investors to follow insiders' lead. "You periodically sell," Jefferies analyst Donald Trott said, regarding insiders. "And the best time, if you're going to do it periodically, is after a spike. Now it's not to say that it can't go higher ... but it's not surprising that they would be selling some stock."

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