Friday, January 04, 2008

Paperstand (SFD, HRL, ELNK, MMC, DSX, GNK)

The WSJ reports that after more than 6ys of wrestling with the question of whether meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to eat, the FDA is expected to declare as early as next week that they are. The FDA had asked producers of cloned livestock not to sell food products from such animals pending its ruling on their safety. It isn't clear whether the FDA will lift this voluntary hold. While many consumer groups still oppose it, the FDA declaration that cloned animal products are safe would be a milestone for a small cadre of biotech co’s that want to make a business out of producing copies of prize dairy cows and other farm animals, effectively taking the selective breeding practiced on farms for centuries to the cutting edge. B/c of the price tag, cloned cattle cost $15-20K per copy, most of the cloned animals will be used for breeding, and it will be 3-5ys before consumers see milk and meat from their offspring. Dean Foods (DF) and Whole Foods Market (WFMI) say they won't sell any milk from cloned animals. The meat industry is more bullish on cloned products than the dairy industry – Smithfield Foods (SFD), Hormel Foods (HRL). Tyson Foods (TSN) says the co "currently has no plans to purchase cloned livestock.

According to the WSJ, Meraki plans to offer free high-speed wireless Internet access throughout San Francisco this yr, betting that low-cost technology and help from users will bring success. The start-up says the free San Francisco wireless project is a test of technology it has developed for building low-cost, large-scale networks, generating some revenue from small ads viewed by users. Meraki last summer began offering free-WiFi Internet access to residents of a roughly 2-sq-mile swath of San Francisco and says it currently has 40K users. Ambitious plans for private-public partnerships to create such networks have fizzled in some cities over the past yr, partly b/c of EarthLink’s (ELNK) decision to retrench in cities, including San Francisco. Meraki's approach is to use lower-cost equipment and rely on consumer volunteers who install small Meraki boxes in their homes that help spread the wireless Internet signal. The gear, which Meraki provides free to San Francisco residents who contact it, can be attached to a window with suction cups and helps extend the distance the wireless Internet signal can travel. Meraki itself plans to install a few dozen wireless gateways connected to the Internet and hundreds of solar-powered repeaters on San Francisco rooftops to also help spread the signal. It hopes every San Francisco home will be able to access Meraki's service by the end of 2008.

“Heard on the Street” column discusses Marsh & McLennan (MMC), saying that some day the long-running drama at the co may reach its happy ending. But that day keeps getting pushed off by plot twists including the dumping of the CEO who saved it from the wrath of prosecutors, an overture from some private-equity firms and now a challenge from a horde of angry investors intent on breaking up the co. The best ending for investors could be the simplest, the co finally figures out how to run its core insurance-brokerage business more profitably. But with activists circling and proxy season coming up, Marsh's board may have to take stronger action. Marsh has been trying unsuccessfully to do that for years, which is what annoys the activist investors who pushed for the ouster of CEO Michael G. Cherkasky last month. Mr. Cherkasky is credited with saving Marsh after it agreed to pay $850m in ‘05 to settle a probe into its business practices. He was never able to figure out how to make up for the profits those practices generated and Marsh's margins remain well below those of its competitors. Mr. Cherkasky is staying on as CEO while the search for a replacement is conducted. The importance of righting the brokerage is no secret. Chmn Stephen Hardis emphasized the point when the co announced the CEO search last month. "The board believes that the full recovery of Marsh is essential to maximizing shareholder value in the most prudent and sustainable manner," he said at the time. He added that the board would "evaluate strategies to enhance shareholder value, including optimizing the co's capital structure, reviewing its mix of businesses and improving operating performance," especially at the brokerage.

Barron’s Online discusses dry-bulk-shiping stocks, which should be in for smoother sailing in 2008. Two standouts are Diana Shipping (DSX) and Genco Shipping (GNK). Both shippers will acquire new vessels and will have the opportunity to lock in higher contract rates this yr. That would provide the co and investors with reduced earnings uncertainty despite an iffy economic outlook. The drop in the sector has made for more reasonable valuations, especially if the economic jitters are overdone. Plus, Diana and Genco also offer some of the higher dividend yields among peers at 7.4% and 4.8%, respectively. Chip Hanlon, of Delta Global Advisors, says, "If a recession doesn't happen, this correction was overdone and these [dry-bulk stocks] are expected to rally."


roberta said...

with regard to dsx and the other dry bulk shipping stock you discussed today, are you sure you meant that the locking in of higher rates will provide these companies with reduced and uncertain earnings outlooks?????

notablecalls said...

You got it wrong, not uncertain earnings, but "reduced earnings uncertainty."

roberta said...

got it. my mistake. thanks.

Anonymous said...

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