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Monday, June 23, 2008

Bloomberg.com: U.S.

June 23 (Bloomberg) -- Republic Services Inc. agreed to buy larger rival Allied Waste Industries Inc. for $6.1 billion to become North America's second-largest trash hauler as a weaker economy and rising fuel prices strain waste-removal companies.

Allied investors will receive 0.45 Republic shares for each share they hold, the companies said today in a statement. The price is 3.5 percent higher than Phoenix-based Allied's June 20 closing price.

Republic Chief Executive Officer James O'Connor will lead the company, which will retain the Republic name and trail only Waste Management Inc. in waste-hauling. Trash companies have raised prices and dropped less-profitable routes as fuel prices soared and U.S. homebuilding slowed, cutting demand for construction-debris removal.

``It's a way of creating a bigger company, to be a No. 2 player to Waste Management,'' Standard & Poor's analyst Stewart Scharf said in a telephone interview. ``It's a way of reducing costs further as they try to improve the top line.''

Allied Waste fell 27 cents, or 2 percent, to $13.29 at 4:03 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has declined 11 percent since June 13, the day the companies said they were in talks. Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Republic Services slipped 21 cents to $30.98 and has dropped 8.5 percent since the discussions were disclosed.

`Growing Pains'

Investors were concerned that the combination would be beset by ``growing pains and integration problems'' that plagued previous mergers between waste companies, Scharf said.

The transaction, expected to close in the fourth quarter, depends on regulatory approval and on achieving investment-grade debt ratings, Republic's O'Connor said on a call with analysts. Debt-rating firms already have indicated the latter condition will be met, he said.

Standard & Poor's rates Republic's debt BBB+, the third- lowest investment-grade rating. Allied's debt has junk status, ranked BB by S&P, or two levels below investment-grade.

Waste-management companies' incomes have been pulled down by the declining U.S. housing market, which is at its weakest in almost three decades. Sales for the Republic unit that deals with bulky refuse for customers including builders dropped 15 percent in the first quarter, after declining by the same margin in the second half of last year, the company said on April 24.

`Record Fuel Prices'

Refuse companies have levied surcharges on customers to help offset record fuel prices. Gasoline futures reached a record $3.5762 a gallon on June 16 and are up 40 percent this year. Crude-oil prices, which touched a record $139.89 on June 16, have gained more than 40 percent this year.

The combined company will have about $9 billion in annual revenue and plans to use an estimated $1.7 billion in annual cash flow to invest in the business, reduce debt and fund yearly dividends of 68 cents a share, O'Connor said. Houston-based Waste Management had $13.3 billion in revenue in 2007.

Scharf estimates Republic will have about 17 percent of the national market after the merger, still smaller than Waste Management's 25 percent.

The acquisition will generate annual savings of $150 million by the third year after the combination, the companies said. Those savings will come from job cuts and office closings and a lower fuel bill achieved by redirecting garbage trucks to closer landfills in the enlarged network, Republic Chief Financial Officer Tod Holmes said on the call.

`Compelling Proposition'

``When you combine the assets, infrastructure and the two operations and management teams, it's a compelling proposition,'' O'Connor said on the call.

No detail on the number of job cuts was provided. Allied CEO John Zillmer said he and CFO Peter Hathaway will leave when the deal is concluded. Don Slager, Allied's president and chief operating officer, will retain the same title in the new company, according to the statement.

A competing offer for Allied is unlikely, Goldman, Sachs & Co. analysts led by David Feinberg, said in a note to clients. Goldman said ``rational pricing'' in the solid-waste industry would be among the benefits of the transaction and would help Waste Management as well.

Republic was advised by Merrill Lynch & Co., while legal counsel was provided by Florida-based Akerman Senterfitt and Chicago-based DLA Piper US LLP. Allied was advised by UBS AG and Chicago-based Mayer Brown LLP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stewart Bailey in New York at sbailey7@bloomberg.net.

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Obama, McCain go after each other on energy - 2008 Presidential Campaign Blog - Political Intelligence - Boston.com

John McCain and Barack Obama are hammering each other on energy policy for a second week.

With McCain campaigning in California today, Obama and the Democrats are happily pointing out that the last time he ran for president in 1999-2000, he told Golden State voters that he supported a ban on offshore oil drilling -- and that his change in position last week puts him out of step with a passel of the state's political leaders, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican.

Democrats also accuse McCain of being less-than-pristine on alternative energy and fuel efficiency in the past, and of political pandering for continuing to support a summer gas tax holiday.

"The question is whether we are going to offer the American people real answers and genuine relief or the same, tired Washington gimmicks and special interest favors that have failed our families and country for too long," the Obama campaign said in a statement. "With his proposal to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling that, as even the McCain campaign admits, wouldn’t produce any increase in resources for years and his gas tax gimmick that economists agree wouldn’t significantly reduce the price of gas if at all, John McCain has chosen to offer more of the same instead of change."

McCain and Republicans, meanwhile, are arguing that Obama is willing to let consumers suffer with no relief in sight. They also accuse Obama of being beholden to the ethanol industry, citing a New York Times story today that documents the ties of some advisers and key supporters. And McCain is promoting his energy security plan -- which also emphasizes nuclear power as a way to wean the country from foreign oil -- in a new Internet video.

“Barack Obama has a do-nothing energy policy, which opposes increasing American energy exploration, opposes a break on summertime gas taxes and opposes incentives that will develop an electric car solution faster," Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman, said in a statement. "Senator Obama’s only answer has nothing to do with supply and demand, but focuses on closing Bill Clinton’s ‘Enron Loophole’ which John McCain has worked to close since 2003. Barack Obama is doing nothing for American families struggling at the pump, and the fact is that Senator Obama’s do-nothing approach won’t help America kick its dangerous addiction to foreign oil.”

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CHP officer shoots, kills woman in Alhambra - Los Angeles Times

A 52-year-old woman was fatally shot by a California Highway Patrol officer late Tuesday after brandishing what appeared to be a handgun during a traffic stop in Alhambra, a Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman said.

The woman was identified by the county coroner as Ilda Ebe Grasso of Los Angeles.

Officer-involved shooting: An article in the California section Thursday on a woman shot and killed by a California Highway Patrol officer in Alhambra said she had brandished what appeared to be a handgun during a traffic stop. The story should have said that authorities said the object was a replica handgun. —

CHP officers told investigators they saw the woman speeding in a red car on the San Bernardino Freeway about 11 p.m. and had her exit the freeway and pull over at Garfield and Hellman avenues, Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said Wednesday.

When the officers attempted to talk to the driver, she pointed what looked like a handgun at them, Whitmore said.

"She brandished it in a menacing manner. So, fearful of their life, they took action," Whitmore said.

At least one of the officers fired at the woman, who was hit in the chest, Whitmore said.

She died at a hospital, he said.

The object was later determined not to be a weapon.

Sheriff's officials, who are investigating the incident, have not determined yet whether drugs and alcohol were a factor. Lt. Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County coroner's office said an autopsy would be done today, and toxicology screening would determine if drugs or alcohol were in her system.


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MTV Movies Blog » Why Did ‘Love Guru’ Bomb? And Is It Justin Timberlake’s Fault?

The last time Mike Myers starred in a comic film creation all his own, the entirely forgettable “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” the flick opened to a stellar $73 million weekend at the box office. That was six years ago and as we just learned over the weekend, a lot can change in that kind of time.

“The Love Guru” opened on Friday to the kind of reviews usually reserved for movies starring Larry the Cable Guy, not to mention an embarrassing 4th-place finish. Perhaps no one sunk the knife deeper than A.O. Scott in “The New York Times” who called it, “an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.” Wonder if Myers turned and mugged for the camera after he read that one.

So this begs a few questions, the key one being…what the hell happened? Did Mike Myers suddenly become unfunny? Did our collective taste change? Is his new comic creation a little too familar (I’m going with this one)? Or is Justin Timberlake to blame?

Laugh all you want but the Timberlake curse seems to have some power to it? Eagerly awaited follow-up from the maker of “Donnie Darko”? That would be “Southland Tales,” the film that spurred a Cannes audience to boo and boo and boo some more. The follow-up to the universally hailed “Hustle & Flow”? That’d be “Black Snake Moan,” the project that tied Christina Ricci to a radiator. And now this!

Did you shell out your hard earned cash for “The Love Guru”? What did you think? And more importantly, if you didn’t like it, who do you think should get the blame?

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Bloomberg.com: U.S.

June 23 (Bloomberg) -- Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore chain, said profit rose 2 percent, helped by sales of allergy medicine and food as it limited cost increases.

Third-quarter net income climbed to $572.3 million, or 58 cents a share, and revenue advanced 9.6 percent, the Deerfield, Illinois-based company said today. Sales of merchandise at stores open at least a year gained 4.6 percent in the three months ended May 31, helping send the shares up as much as 2.8 percent.

Shoppers limited car trips to grocers after gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon, buying milk and other items at drugstores while picking up their medicines. Allergy drug Zyrtec, which no longer requires a prescription, buoyed sales. Walgreen said it cut advertising costs and tamed growth in salary expenses.

Walgreen is ``positioning themselves here to come out of this economic slowdown in really good shape,'' David Magee, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Markets in Atlanta, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview.

Mounting U.S. job losses and the worst housing slump since the Great Depression pushed consumer confidence in May to its lowest level in 28 years.

Growth in merchandise sales is the ``most economically sensitive, and it still grew about 5 percent,'' said Magee, who recommends investors buy the company's shares.

Walgreen climbed 51 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $35.58 at 11:02 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Earlier the shares advanced to $36.05, the biggest one-day gain since March 24. The stock has lost 7.9 percent this year before today.

Seeking Bargains

``Customers are looking for bargains, in many cases `trading down' to buy Walgreen's own brands,'' Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Rein said on a call with investors and analysts. ``People are absolutely shopping for a value.''

Revenue from its 6,727 locations advanced to $15 billion, helped by an 8.9 increase in prescription purchases. The chain is gaining market share in generic drug sales, Rein, 56, said.

Total same-store sales rose 3.4 percent, while prescription purchases at existing stores increased 2.7 percent.

``There's been a lot of concern'' about expenses, Dan Poole, senior vice president of equity research at National City Bank, said in a June 19 interview. His firm manages $34 billion in assets including Walgreen shares.

Profit margin, or the share of sales left after subtracting the cost of goods sold, fell to 28.2 percent from 28.3 percent. The expense of goods sold increased 9.7 percent in the quarter.

Monitoring Expenses

``We've taken a more proactive approach'' to controlling salary growth in stores, monitoring sales and expenses on a weekly basis, Rein said on the call.

Sixteen analysts surveyed by Bloomberg predicted average profit of 59 cents, excluding some costs. The sales projection was $15.1 billion. A year earlier, Walgreen earned $561.2 million, or 56 cents a share.

Like competitors, Walgreen has been expanding the number of walk-in health centers it runs. Earlier this year, it announced acquisitions of I-trax Inc. and closely held Whole Health Management for more than $260 million to triple its clinics.

CVS Caremark Corp., the second-biggest U.S. drugstore chain by sales, bought Caremark RX Inc. last year to add the second- largest U.S. pharmacy-benefits manager.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lauren Coleman-Lochner in New York at llochner@bloomberg.net.

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Citigroup may cut 10% of investment-banking staff - MarketWatch

The financial-services giant, which employs about 350,000 workers worldwide, will dismiss thousands this week, adding to the layoffs totaling 9,000 that had been issued as of March 31, reported The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the matter.
"Citi indicated earlier this year that it would be resizing this business in response to market conditions and as part of our ongoing re-engineering efforts," spokesman Dan Noonan said, without confirming details.
The company has suffered through $15 billion in losses during the past two quarters and will likely write down billions more in the second quarter, the Journal said.
The staff cuts are expected to be sharper among mergers-and-acquisitions bankers, a department that was spared earlier this year. Citigroup's emerging-markets unit and transaction-services arm are among the only departments that may be exempted from staff cuts, although nearly all other major departments within the investment-banking division should see some firings, according to the report.
The staff cuts are the first since John Havens was appointed to head up Citigroup's institutional clients group in late March.
Havens believes that the credit tumult has made some of Citigroup's investment-banking businesses no longer viable, while other units are operating inefficiently and making poor returns, the report said. End of Story
Chris Oliver is MarketWatch's Asia bureau chief, based in Hong Kong.
Riley McDermid is a MarketWatch reporter based in New York.
Citigroup may cut 10% of investment-banking staff - MarketWatch
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