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Merck Is Spinning Off 3 Divisions To Focus On “Key Growth Drivers”

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Plus, Tesla shares are taking a hit as its production in China is halted by the coronavirus, private payrolls soared by 291,000 in January, and Macy’s just released a new turnaround plan.

Stocks continued their rise to begin Wednesday with the Dow trading 243 points, or 0.9%, higher. The S&P 500 gained 0.7%, while the Nasdaq added 0.2%.


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Coronavirus cases have surged to more than 24,000 as of Wednesday morning, with at least 490 deaths caused by the virus worldwide. While China Global Television Network reported that researchers at Zhejiang University had zeroed in on two drugs that successfully fight the coronavirus, the World Health Organization played down the reports. “There are no known effective therapeutics against [the] 2019-nCoV and WHO recommends enrollment into a randomized controlled trial to test efficacy and safety,” WHO said in a statement Wednesday. Carnival’s Princess Cruises said it has placed 3,700 passengers and crew under mandatory quarantine aboard a ship in Yokohama, Japan for up to two weeks after 10 people onboard tested positive for the virus, while a Dream Cruises Management ship is being held off Hong Kong with a reported 3 cases found onboard. 

Tesla shares are down more than -14% this morning after a company executive said that Model 3 vehicles scheduled for delivery in early February in China would be delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Canaccord analyst Jed Dorsheimer downgraded Tesla shares from Buy to Hold on the news following the rally that sent shares up nearly 50% in two days. “Given the 3,000 per week China Model 3 production expectations in a country that remains on lock down, we feel a reset of expectations [in the first quarter] is likely and thus needs to be reflected in the valuation,” Dorsheimer wrote in a note. 

ADP and Moody’s Analytics said private payrolls soared by 291,000 in January, the best monthly gain since May 2015 and far above estimates for 150,000. “Mild winter weather provided a significant boost to the January employment gain,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “The leisure and hospitality and construction industries in particular experienced an outsized increase in jobs. Abstracting from the vagaries of the data underlying job growth is close to 125,000 per month, which is consistent with low and stable unemployment.”

Code Name: Polaris Strategy. That’s what Macy’s is calling its new turnaround plan, which is geared toward stabilizing “profitability and position the company for growth.” Under Polaris, Macy’s has said it will “strengthen customer relationships,” “curate quality fashion,” “accelerate digital growth,” “optimize its store portfolio,” and “reset [its] cost base.” In other words, Macy’s is planning to close 125 stores, lay off 2,000 employees, relocate its headquarters from San Francisco to New York, and make Atlanta its new technology hub. The department store will also be expanding its off-price offerings and will test a new store format. “We are stepping up to redefine what a department store can and should be,” said CEO Jeff Gennette. While the changes are expected to generate around $1.5 billion in annual savings by the end of 2022, Macy’s is still forecasting same-store sales to be flat to -1% in fiscal 2022. “We have some legacy challenges,” Gennette said, explaining that Macy’s grew as large as it has because of a series of acquisitions of smaller chains. “But we do have a lot on our side.”

And Merck shares are down nearly -4% this morning after the pharmaceutical giant said it was spinning off three divisions—responsible for about 13% of sales—to focus on its fast-growing oncology and vaccine divisions. “We have seen over the past few years the tremendous benefits of focusing our organization around key growth drivers,” said Merck CEO Ken Frazier. “We have witnessed what the benefits are of getting a company focused, from the standpoint of operations and execution.” Frazier said that the success of Keytruda, the immuno-oncology drug that is on track to be the best selling drug in the world by 2023, has been a result of a company-wide focus on developing its oncology division. “The kind of growth we see today [is]… the product of that focus,” Frazier added. The new publicly traded company will include Merck’s women’s health, biosimilar drugs, and older products divisions, reducing the number of human health products that Merck produces by about 50%.  

Stocks We’re Watching

Allot Communications (NASDAQ: ALLT): Shares of this network intelligence and security solutions provider gained 31% yesterday after it released its Q4 earnings. Allot reported fourth quarter revenue was up 14% year-over-year to $30.6 million, beating estimates by $2.5 million, and said its bookings backlog at the end of 2019 was $138 million, roughly double its backlog at the end of 2018. “This growth came from strong bookings in both the Allot smart product line for visibility and control, as well as capex booking and the Allot secure product line for security. This is our eighth straight quarter of double-digit revenue growth year over year” said Allot President and CEO Erez Antebi on a call with analysts. “I am very pleased with the results we achieved during the fourth quarter and in 2019 as a whole. And I believe it shows that we are on track and successfully executing on our plan. The number of opportunities we see continues to grow. We continue to close new deals, win against competition, bring more Tier 1 business and our revenues are growing.”

Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG): Chipotle shares were up premarket this morning after the burrito chain reported an earnings beat. Chipotle said its adjusted Q4 earnings per share came in at $2.86, beating analysts’ estimates of $2.76, on revenue of $1.4 billion, an 18% year-over-year increase. Bernstein analyst Sara Senatore said of the report, “Growth reflects better operations and delivery, along with strength from carne asada. Management confidence in the stage-gate process and the strength of further innovation—salad, quest blanco in market now, beverages, and quesadillas to come—suggests the comp guide is likely to again prove conservative.”

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