Oracle Beats Targets

Monsanto CEO resigns; Halliburton will settle asbestos claims; plus more of today's stocks in the news

Oracle (ORCL ) beat earnings expectations for the November quarter amid cost cutting and stronger sales. The maker of database-management software reported 10 cents earnings per share vs. 10 cents earnings per share. Analysts had expected eight cents earnings per share.

Monsanto's (MON ) chief executive and president Hendrik Verfaillie resigned Wednesday afternoon. He will be temporarily replaced by chairman Frank AtLee III. Verfaillie worked for the agricultural products company for 26 years; the reasons for his departure were not disclosed.

Halliburton (HAL ) said it reached an agreement in principle to settle hundreds of thousands of asbestos-related claims for about $4 billion in stock and cash. Moody's is reviewing its ratings on the oil field service company's unsecured and short-term debt.

Micron Technology (MU ) posted a 52 cent first quarter loss vs. a 44 cent loss as a write-down of inventories and lower product prices offset a 62% sales rise. Merrill downgraded to neutral from buy. S&P reiterates avoid. Earlier, the results were incorrectly reported as a third quarter loss per share.

Blockbuster (BBI ) expects a high single-digit fourth quarter same store revenue increase, and a low, single-digit gross profit dollar increase, which is below the previous outlook. SWS downgraded, and Salomon cut its estimates and target. Analysts say the movie rental chain is losing sales to retailers that are offering new, discounted DVD titles.

PolyOne (POL ) sees a 17 cent to 22 cent fourth quarter loss before items, worse than the previous guidance. The specialty plastics maker says special items, including restructuring costs, will widen its fourth quarter loss by one cents to two cents. Merrill cut to sell.

Dr. Reddy's Labs (RDY won a patent dispute in a U.S. court, paving the way to market a modified version of Pfizer's hypertension drug Norvasc. The India-based drug manufacturer expects to launch its product in August 2003.

Home furnishing retailer Kirkland (KIRK ) says if recent sales trends don't improve, fourth quarter comparison sales could fall below the previous 1% to 3% guidance, with earnings per share below the earlier 75 cents to 78 cents guidance. USB Piper downgraded to outperform from strong buy.

Apollo Group (APOL ), parent of the online University of Phoenix, posted 30 cents vs. 18 cents first quarter earnings per share on a 35% revenue rise, and sees 20 cents second quarter earnings per share, and $1.16 for fiscal 2003.

FedEx (FDX ) posted 81 cents vs. 81 cents despite a 7% revenue rise. Analysts had been expecting 79 cents earnings per share. Given the weaker than expected U.S. economic growth in the manufacturing and wholesale sectors, FedEx expects 45 cents to 55 cents third quarter earnings per share. The company says it believes $2.77 earnings per share in fiscal 2003 is achieveable.

Supervalu (SVU ) posted 43 cents vs. 43 cents third quarter earnings per share despite a 2% sales rise. The grocery chain sees 55 cents to 60 cents fourth quarter earnings per share, and $1.98-$2.03 in fiscal 2003.

Bank of New York (BK ) expects to take a $390 million fourth quarter provision for losses on aircraft leases to United Airlines, and potential losses on leases to other domestic carriers.

Halted on Tuesday, Corixa (CRXA ) says an FDA panel agreed that its Bexxar drug provides substantial evidence of benefit in both rituximab-refractory patients and in patients with chemo-refractory, low-grade, follicular lymphoma.

Lennar (LEN ) sees fourth quarter earnings per share exceeding the current $2.81 consensus by more 10%. The homebuilding company raised its fiscal 2003 earnings per share goal to $8.50.

Kinder Morgan (KMI expects to meet or beat fourth quarter and 2002 consensus. The company sees recurring earnings per share of $3.11 in 2003; this includes contributions from its Kinder Morgan Energy Partners unit.

Vivendi Universal (V ) will sell its EchoStar Communications (DISH ) equity position to EchoStar for $1.066 billion in cash.

General Mills (GIS ) posted 77 cents vs. 63 cents second quarter earnings per share from operations on a 60% sales rise -- beating expectations for 74 cents earnings per share. The cereal company also upped its fiscal 2003 operating earnings per share guidance to $2.60-$2.62.

An FDA committee recommended approval of MedImmune's (MEDI ) FluMist, its flu vaccine developed by company and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, for ages 5 through 49. The committee says data that was set for efficacy in the ages 50 to 64 group is inadequate.

Instrumentarium (INMRY ) agreed to be acquired by General Electric's GE Medical Systems unit in a two billion euro deal. Terms: 40 euro dollars per one Instrumentarium share.

Phillips-Van Heusen (PVH ) agreed to acquire Calvin Klein in a deal valued at around $700 million, including $400 million cash, and $30 million in Phillips-Van Heusen stock, warrants, and an ongoing incentive for Klein based on sales of his brand.

Darden Restaurant (DRI ) posted 21 cents vs. 19 cents second quarter earnings per share on a 6.4% sales rise. CIBC World upgraded to sector outperform from sector perform.

PMI Group (PMI ) sees $4.08-$4.30 2003 operating income vs. $4.24 consensus estimate.

Activision (ATVI ) expects revenues and earnings per share for the third quarter and fourth quarter, as well as fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004, to be lower than the previous guidance. Deutsche Bank downgraded to hold.

Viacom (VIA ) says an announcement by BBI, a unit of Viacom, will not impact its ability deliver double-digit growth in EBITDA, operating income, and earnings per share for 2002.

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