Altria Soars as Judge Slams $145 Billion Verdict

Energizer jumps; Vivendi in talks to sell U.S. entertainment unit; plus more of today's stocks in the news

A Florida appeals court reversed the $145 billion Engle judgement against Altria (MO ) and other cigarette makers. The court set forth in considerable detail why the case failed to meet virtually every legal requirement for class certification.

Prudential upgraded Energizer (ENR ) to buy from hold, saying the Schick acquisition will be accretive to fiscal 2004 earnings.

French conglomerate Vivendi Universal (V ) says it is in talks to dispose of parts of its American assets, which include Universal Studios, Universal Music, and the USA and SciFi cable channels. Vivendi notes vice chairman Edgar Bronfman, Jr., intends to lead a consortium of potential purchasers, which includes Cablevision. Cablevision is expected to contribute its entertainment cable networks to a new company that would be formed if the deal is completed.

VeriSign (VRSN ) received a global, multi-year contract to help manage network security devices for Merrill Lynch.

AG Edwards reduced Stratasys (SSYS ) to sell from hold.

Bear Stearns initiated coverage on ICN Pharmaceuticals (ICN ) with outperform. S&P upgraded to hold from sell.

Lehman upgraded Tech Data (TECD ) to equal-weight from underweight.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ ) posted 22 cents vs. 13 cents second-quarter earnings per share (GAAP basis) on a 69% revenue rise. The computer and printer maker posted 29 cents non-GAAP earnings per share (including a 7-cent adjustment for various items), beating analysts' average estimates of 27 cents. H-P affirmed the consensus second-half estimates for $36.4 billion in revenue, and 62 cents in non-GAAP earnings per share. S&P reiterates hold. SoundView raised estimates.

Tularik (TLRK ) will collaborate with Amgen (AMGN ) on therapeutics for oncology targets. Tularik will receive milestones payments of up to $21 million per target, and $50 million in committed research funding and royalties. Amgen will buy $35 million of newly-issued Tularik stock.

Deutsche Bank cut Cisco (CSCO ) to hold from buy.

JP Morgan upgraded Alcoa (AA ) to overweight from neutral, and added the stock to its U.S. focus list.

Talbots (TLB ) posted 51 cents vs. 57 cents first-quarter earnings per share on 4.3% lower same store sales -- beating analysts' average estimates by a penny.

Polo Ralph Lauren (RL ) posted 77 cents vs. 58 cents fourth-quarter adjusted earnings per share on a 7.4% net sales rise. The apparel retailer posted 64 cents vs. 48 cents fourth-quarter earnings per share (GAAP). The company also declared its first ever dividend of 5 cents on a quarterly basis, and reaffirmed the $1.95-$2.05 fiscal 2004 adjusted earnings per share.

Thomas Weisel upgraded Sandisk (SNDK ) to outperform from peer perform.

Photronics (PLAB ) posted a $1.37 second-quarter loss (including the impact of aftertax restructuring charges totaling $1.24 per share) vs. 8 cents earnings per share on a 17% sales drop. Photronics posted a 13-cent second-quarter loss from operations. Merrill upgraded to buy from neutral. S&P reiterates accumulate.

Boston Scientific (BSX ) says the results of four studies on three of the company's Taxus paclitaxel-eluting stent shows safety, efficacy, and expansion in higher-risk patients, and says these benefits were sustained for two years. Seperately, Boston Scientific will acquire Endotex Interventional Systems, according to The Boston Globe.

Outback Steakhouse (OSI ) says its U.S. restaurants serve only USDA top choice or prime U.S. Midwestern grain-fed beef; and requires all beef suppliers to confirm the cattle used for its restaurants is raised and fed in compliance with U.S. regulations.

Tyson Foods (TSN ) says it believes Canadian officals are taking appropriate steps in the mad cow disease matter. Tyson says there's no reason to be concerned about the safety of U.S. beef products already in the U.S. or the production pipeline.

Hamburger chain Wendy's (WEN ) says there's no evidence that the situation regarding mad cow disease in Canada warrants changes in its business approach at this time.

Bookseller Borders Group (BGP ) posted a 6-cent first-quarter loss vs. a 5 cents first-quarter earnings per share on flat revenue. Borders sees a 1-cent loss to 3 cents earnings per share for the second quarter, and $1.40-$1.46 fiscal 2004 earnings per share. Borders raised the stock buyback to $150 million, plus proceeds and tax benefits from stock option exercises. Prudential cut its estimates. S&P keeps hold.

Gibralter Steel (ROCK ) raised its annual dividend by 13%.

Digene (DIGE ) sats a study in the British Journal of Cancer confirmed the use of its Hybrid Capture(R) 2 High-Risk HPV DNA Test for the detection of cervical disease.

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