Hasbro questioned by shareholder!

Alta Fox urges Hasbro to address questions on Q1 earnings call

Alta Fox Capital Management, the beneficial owner of approximately 2.5% of the outstanding shares of Hasbro (HAS), urged the Company to address the following questions when it reports Q1 financial results tomorrow:

“Why has the Company pushed back the record date for the 2022 Annual Meeting of Shareholders?

Given that the Board of Directors appears to be more focused on entrenchment than value creation, we are forced to question the motivation behind moving the record date to May 9th.

We fear the Board is hoping that the delay will provide time to court friendly shareholders, who are likely to support the incumbents.

In our view, this seemingly self-serving maneuver has parallels to the defensive PIPE transactions recently initiated by other underperforming companies facing election contests.

Why is the Company forcing a costly election contest instead of accepting a modest Board refresh and a capital allocation review committee in response to shareholders’ concerns regarding Hasbro’s chronic underperformance?

In our view, investors have reason to question whether the Board is acting in shareholders’ best interest or engaging in further entrenchment to maintain the Hassenfeld family’s influence.

Why did the Company expand its Board to 13 members instead of carrying out a viable director refresh?

We contend the decision to expand the Board from 11 members to 13 members following our nomination reflects an unacceptable level of dysfunction and entrenchment in the boardroom.

Why did the Company feel it was appropriate for Cynthia W. Williams, the newly appointed President of Wizards of the Coast, to join another public company’s board within two months of being appointed to her new role?

We question why Williams would want to join the board of Aterian, a company whose stock is down almost 70% from its IPO in 2019 and which has been accused of serious wrongdoings.

We find it surprising that Hasbro’s Board allowed Ms. Williams to dilute her attention so early in her tenure at Wizards of the Coast and was comfortable associating Hasbro’s senior leadership with Aterian.

Cynthia W. Williams

How did the Board determine so quickly that a spin-off of Wizards of the Coast was ill-advised, and why will it not share this analysis with shareholders?

We believe spinning off Wizards of the Coast could help enhance Hasbro’s corporate structure and unlock the full value of the division, which has a completely different growth, margin and valuation profile than the Consumer Products and Entertainment segments.

In light of the Board’s apparent credibility issues, we find it hard to believe the Company comprehensively and objectively evaluated strategic alternatives for the unit.

We believe shareholders deserve a detailed explanation of the Board’s purported evaluation, and that the analysis should be re-examined with shareholder-appointed directors focused on creating shareholder value rather than preserving the Hassenfeld family legacy.

To date, the Company has provided little evidence of business unit “synergies” that could not be accomplished through a partnership arrangement.

Why is the Board resistant to forming a capital allocation committee when investments, such as the Entertainment One deal, have been value destructive?

It is confounding to us that Hasbro continues to assume no accountability for poor capital allocation when organic and inorganic investments have failed to produce meaningful shareholder value over many years.”

Alta Fox has filed a preliminary proxy statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with its nomination of five candidates for election to the Company’s Board at this year’s Annual Meeting.

Hasbro reports on April 19th before the market open. HAS is down 2% to $83.47.

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Crane to split into two companies!

Crane plans to split into two independent public companies

Crane (CR) announced that its Board of Directors has unanimously approved a plan to pursue a separation into two independent, publicly-traded companies to optimize investment and capital allocation, accelerate growth, and unlock shareholder value.

Upon completion, Crane Co.’s shareholders will benefit from ownership in two focused and simplified businesses that are both leaders in their respective industries and well-positioned for continued success:

Crane Co. will be a leading global provider of mission-critical, highly engineered products and solutions, with differentiated technology, respected brands, and leadership positions in its markets.

After the separation, Crane Co. will include the Aerospace & Electronics and Process Flow Technologies businesses.

This year, these businesses are expected to generate approximately $1.9B in annual sales with a pre-corporate Adjusted EBITDA margin of approximately 18.5%.

The company will be well-positioned to accelerate organic growth in its large and attractive end markets, benefit from favorable secular trends, and apply its proven processes to drive growth through new product development and commercial excellence.

Richard Teller Crane, Founder of Crane Co.

Crane Co. is expected to have a strong, well-capitalized balance sheet underpinning a capital deployment strategy focused on supporting the company’s organic and inorganic strategic growth objectives, while providing a dividend in-line with peers.

Crane Co. will be led by Max Mitchell, who will continue to serve as President and Chief Executive Officer, with Rich Maue continuing to serve as Chief Financial Officer.

The company intends to continue to be listed on the NYSE under its current ticker symbol, “CR”.

Crane NXT will be a premier Industrial Technology business with substantial global scale, a best-in-class margin profile, and strong free cash flow generation.

This year, the Payment and Merchandising Technologies business that will become Crane NXT is expected to achieve approximately $1.4 billion in sales with a pre-corporate Adjusted EBITDA margin of approximately 28%.

In addition to its market leading brands, Crane NXT will differentiate itself through its technology leadership, positioning it to leverage long-term secular drivers including automation, security and productivity, across several high-growth adjacent markets.

After the separation, Crane NXT will be positioned to drive earnings growth through continued investment in the business and value-enhancing bolt-on acquisitions. Its balance sheet and strong free cash flow will also allow it to support a robust and differentiated level of capital return to shareholders that is expected to include a competitive dividend.

Crane NXT’s shares are expected to be listed on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “CXT”. A process is currently underway to identify Crane NXT’s chief executive, including evaluation of both internal and external candidates.

The executives currently leading Crane’s PMT business will continue to serve in senior positions with Crane NXT.

The separation is expected to occur through a tax-free distribution of the Aerospace & Electronics and Process Flow Technologies businesses to the Company’s shareholders.

Payment & Merchandising Technologies will be renamed Crane NXT concurrent with the separation, and the Aerospace & Electronics and Process Flow Technologies businesses will retain the Crane Co. name.

Upon completion of the separation, shareholders will own 100% of the equity in both of the publicly traded companies.

The separation is expected to be completed within approximately 12 months of this announcement, subject to the satisfaction of customary conditions and final approval of the separation by Crane Co.’s Board of Directors. Shareholder approval is not required.

Crane Co. will maintain its current capital deployment policies until the separation is completed.

CR is up $2.50 to $112.63.

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Alleghany sold for $11.6 billion

Berkshire Hathaway to acquire Alleghany for $848.02 per share

Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) and Alleghany (Y) jointly announced they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Berkshire Hathaway will acquire all outstanding Alleghany shares for $848.02 per share in cash.

Alleghany Corporation provides property and casualty reinsurance and insurance products in the United States and internationally. 

The transaction, which was unanimously approved by both boards of directors, represents a total equity value of approximately $11.6B.

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Buffett buys Alleghany

The acquisition price represents a multiple of 1.26 times Alleghany’s book value at December 31, 2021, a 29% premium to Alleghany’s average stock price over the last 30 days and a 16% premium to Alleghany’s 52-week high closing price.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2022, subject to customary closing conditions, including approval by Alleghany stockholders and receipt of regulatory approvals.

Alleghany will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway after closing.

Chairman Jefferson Kirby, who controls 2.5% of Alleghany common shares, intends to vote his shares for the transaction.

Under the terms of the definitive merger agreement, Alleghany may actively solicit and consider alternative acquisition proposals during a 25-day “go-shop” period.

Alleghany has the right to terminate the merger agreement to accept a superior proposal during the go-shop period, subject to the terms and conditions of the merger agreement.

There can be no assurances that the “go-shop” process will result in a superior proposal, and Alleghany does not intend to communicate developments regarding the process unless and until Alleghany’s board of directors makes a determination requiring further disclosure.

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Frontier buys Spirit Airlines

Frontier, Spirit to combine in deal that implies $25.83 per Spirit share

Spirit Airlines (SAVE) and Frontier Group Holdings (ULCC) announced a definitive merger agreement under which the companies will combine, creating America’s most competitive ultra-low fare airline.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, which has been unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies, Spirit equity holders will receive 1.9126 shares of Frontier plus $2.13 in cash for each existing Spirit share they own.

This implies a value of $25.83 per Spirit share at Frontier’s closing stock price of $12.39 on February 4, 2022, representing a premium of 19% over the February 4, 2022, closing price of Spirit, and a 26% premium based on the 30 trading-day volume-weighted average prices of Frontier and Spirit.

The transaction values Spirit at a fully diluted equity value of $2.9B, and a transaction value of $6.6B when accounting for the assumption of net debt and operating lease liabilities.

Upon closing of the transaction, existing Frontier equity holders will own approximately 51.5% and existing Spirit equity holders will own approximately 48.5% of the combined airline, on a fully diluted basis, providing both Frontier and Spirit equity holders with substantial upside potential.

Spirit Route Map

The Board of Directors for the new airline will be comprised of 12 directors (including the CEO), seven of whom will be named by Frontier and five of whom will be named by Spirit.

Bill Franke, CEO of the Indigo Partners, will be Chairman of the Board of the combined company.

Frontier Route Map

The merger is expected to close in the second half of 2022, subject to satisfaction of customary closing conditions, including completion of the regulatory review process and approval by Spirit stockholders.

Frontier’s controlling stockholder has approved the transaction and related issuance of shares of Frontier common stock upon signing of the merger agreement.

The combined company’s management team, branding and headquarters will be determined by a committee led by Franke prior to close.

Separately, Spirit reported Q4 revenue $987.56M, consensus $963.15M.

“Our fourth quarter 2021 results came in better-than-expected, despite the negative impact from Omicron-related flight disruptions, primarily due to very strong demand over the peak December holiday period. I want to thank the entire Spirit team for their professionalism and commitment to providing excellent service to our Guests,” said Ted Christie, Spirit’s president and CEO.

Ted Christie, Spirit’s president and CEO

Spirit Airlines is up 15.9%, or $3.46 to $25.20. Frontier Group is up 14 cents to $12.81.

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NeoPhotonics sold for $918M

 Lumentum to acquire NeoPhotonics for $16 per share in cash

Lumentum (LITE) and NeoPhotonics (NPTN) announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Lumentum will acquire NeoPhotonics for $16.00 per share in cash, which represents a total equity value of approximately $918M.

NeoPhotonics Corporation develops, manufactures, and sells optoelectronic products that transmit and receive high speed digital optical signals for cloud and hyperscale data center internet content provider and telecom networks worldwide.

Lumentum Holdings Inc. manufactures and sells optical and photonic products in the Americas, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The company operates in two segments, Optical Communications (OpComms) and Commercial Lasers (Lasers). 

Laser chips made by Lumentum

The transaction has been unanimously approved by the boards of directors of both companies.

The purchase price represents a premium of approximately 39% to NeoPhotonics’ closing stock price on November 3, 2021.

Laser chips made by NeoPhotonics

Lumentum intends to finance the transaction through cash from the combined company’s balance sheet.

Related to the transaction, Lumentum will provide up to $50M in term loans to NeoPhotonics to fund anticipated growth, which may require increased working capital and manufacturing capacity.

The transaction is expected to close in the second half of calendar year 2022, subject to approval by NeoPhotonics’ stockholders, receipt of regulatory approvals, and other customary closing conditions.

“With NeoPhotonics, we’re making another important investment in better serving our customers and expanding our photonics capabilities at a time when photonics are at the forefront of favorable long-term market trends. At the center of our strategy is a relentless focus on developing a differentiated portfolio with the most innovative products and technology in our industry so that we can help our customers compete and win in their respective markets.

Adding NeoPhotonics’ differentiated products and technology and innovative R&D team is consistent with this strategy and together, we will better meet the growing need for next generation optical networking solutions. We are confident this transaction will make us an even better partner to our customers, while enabling our team to deliver significant, long-term value to our stockholders. We look forward to welcoming NeoPhotonics’ talented team of employees to Lumentum,” said Alan Lowe, Lumentum President and CEO.

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AbbVie’s antidepressant achieves positive results

AbbVie’s cariprazine met primary endpoint in Phase 3 study

AbbVie (ABBV) announced top-line results from two Phase 3 clinical trials, Study 3111-301-001 and Study 3111-302-001, evaluating the efficacy and safety of cariprazine as an adjunctive treatment for patients with major depressive disorder.

Cariprazine, sold under the brand names Vraylar in the United States and Reagila in the European Union, is an atypical antipsychotic which is used in the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar mania, and bipolar depression.

Drug pipeline looks very promising for Abbvie

In Study 3111-301-001, cariprazine showed a statistically significant change from baseline to week six in the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale total score compared with placebo.

The Montgomery–Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) is a ten-item diagnostic questionnaire which psychiatrists use to measure the severity of depressive episodes in patients with mood disorders. 

Patients treated with cariprazine at 1.5 mg/day achieved improved MADRS total score at week six compared to placebo.

Patients treated with cariprazine at 3.0 mg/day demonstrated improvement in MADRS total score at week six over placebo but did not meet statistical significance.

In Study 3111-302-001, cariprazine demonstrated numerical improvement in depressive symptoms from baseline to week six in MADRS total score compared with placebo but did not meet its primary endpoint for either the 1.5 mg/day or 3.0 mg/day dose.

In a previously published Phase 2/3 registration-enabling study, RGH-MD-75, patients treated with cariprazine flexible doses of 2.0-4.5 mg/day in addition to ongoing antidepressant therapy met the primary endpoint and achieved improved MADRS total scores at week eight compared to placebo.

Based on the positive results of studies 3111-301-001 and RGH-MD-75, and the totality of data reported, AbbVie intends to submit a supplemental New Drug Application with the U.S. FDA for the expanded use of cariprazine for the adjunctive treatment of MDD.

Separately, AbbVie reported Q3 Global Humira sales of $5.425B up 5.6% on reported basis.

In Q3, Global net revenues from the immunology portfolio were $6.674 billion, an increase of 15.3 percent on a reported basis, or 14.9 percent on an operational basis.

Global Humira net revenues of $5.425 billion increased 5.6 percent on a reported basis, or 5.2 percent on an operational basis.

U.S. Humira net revenues were $4.613 billion, an increase of 10.1 percent.

Internationally, Humira net revenues were $812 million, a decrease of 14.6 percent on a reported basis, or 16.7 percent on an operational basis, due to biosimilar competition.

Treatment for Psoriasis

Global Skyrizi net revenues were $796 million. Global Rinvoq net revenues were $453 million.

Treatment for moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis

ABBV is up $5 to $114.70.

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FDA Approved Vapes are coming!

FDA announces ‘first authorization’ for marketing of e-cigarette products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it has authorized the marketing of three new tobacco products, which it noted marks “the first set of electronic nicotine delivery system products ever to be authorized by the FDA through the Premarket Tobacco Product Application – PMTA – pathway.”

The FDA issued marketing granted orders to R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, for its Vuse Solo closed ENDS device and accompanying tobacco-flavored e-liquid pods, specifically, Vuse Solo Power Unit, Vuse Replacement Cartridge Original 4.8% G1, and Vuse Replacement Cartridge Original 4.8% G2.

“As the RJR Vapor Company submitted data to the FDA that demonstrated that marketing of these products is appropriate for the protection of public health, today’s authorization allows these products to be legally sold in the U.S.,” the FDA stated.

Solar Powered Vuse

Today, the FDA also issued 10 marketing denial orders for flavored ENDS products submitted under the Vuse Solo brand by RJR.

“Due to potential confidential commercial information issues, the FDA is not publicly disclosing the specific flavored products. These products subject to an MDO for a premarket application may not be introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce. Should any of them already be on the market, they must be removed from the market or risk enforcement. Retailers should contact RJR with any questions about products in their inventory.

The agency is still evaluating the company’s application for menthol-flavored products under the Vuse Solo brand,” the FDA stated.

“Today’s authorizations are an important step toward ensuring all new tobacco products undergo the FDA’s robust, scientific premarket evaluation. The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products – either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption – by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals. We must remain vigilant with this authorization and we will monitor the marketing of the products, including whether the company fails to comply with any regulatory requirements or if credible evidence emerges of significant use by individuals who did not previously use a tobacco product, including youth. We will take action as appropriate, including withdrawing the authorization,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products

Shares to watch: BTI, MO, PM.

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Exxon gets into plastic recycling!

 Exxon Mobil announces plans to build plastic waste recycling facility

Exxon Mobil (XOM) plans to build its first, large-scale plastic waste advanced recycling facility in Baytown, Texas, and is expected to start operations by year-end 2022.

A smaller, temporary facility, is already operational and producing commercial volumes of certified circular polymers that will be marketed by the end of this year to meet growing demand.

The new facility follows validation of Exxon Mobil’s initial trial of its proprietary process for converting plastic waste into raw materials.

“We’ve proven our proprietary advanced recycling technology in Baytown, and we’re scaling up operations to supply certified circular polymers by year-end,” said Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company. “Availability of reliable advanced recycling capacity will play an important role in helping address plastic waste in the environment, and we are evaluating wide-scale deployment in other locations around the world.”

To date, the trial has successfully recycled more than 1,000 metric tons of plastic waste, the equivalent of 200M grocery bags, and has demonstrated the capability of processing 50 metric tons per day.

Upon completion of the large-scale facility, the operation in Baytown will be among North America’s largest plastic waste recycling facilities and will have an initial planned capacity to recycle 30,000 metric tons of plastic waste per year.

Operational capacity could be expanded quickly if effective policy and regulations that recognize the lifecycle benefits of advanced recycling are implemented for residential and industrial plastic waste collection and sorting systems.

ExxonMobil is developing plans to build approximately 500,000 metric tons of advanced recycling capacity globally over the next five years.

In Europe, the company is collaborating with Plastic Energy on an advanced recycling plant in Notre Dame de Gravenchon, France, which is expected to process 25,000 metric tons of plastic waste per year when it starts up in 2023, with the potential for further expansion to 33,000 metric tons of annual capacity.

The company is also assessing sites in the Netherlands, the U.S. Gulf Coast, Canada, and Singapore.

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When It rains, It pours!

Workhorse Group suspends deliveries of C-1000 vehicles, recalls 41 that it had delivered

Workhorse Group Inc. (WKHS) shares plunged on Wednesday to their lowest in fifteen months after the beleaguered electric-vehicle maker said it will suspend deliveries of its vans and recall units it has already delivered.

Workhorse Group (WKHS) provided an update to its ongoing review of the Company’s business and go-forward operating and commercial plans to transition from an advanced technology start-up to an efficient manufacturing company.

The electric van, called the C-1000, would require additional testing and modifications to existing vehicles in order to certify them under federal motor vehicle safety standards, the company said in a statement.

The Company stopped delivery of its C-1000

The Company has identified a number of enhancements in the production process and design of the C-1000 to address customer feedback, primarily related to vehicle dynamics to increase the vehicles’ payload capacity.

As Workhorse has identified these enhancements and continued its review and redesign of the C-1000, the Company has decided to suspend deliveries of C-1000 vehicles and recall 41 vehicles it has already delivered.

As part of these efforts, the new leadership team has determined that additional testing and modifications to existing vehicles are required to certify the C-1000 vehicles under Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.

The Company expects to complete testing in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Workhorse intends to provide an update on its operating and commercial plans on its upcoming third quarter 2021 earnings call.

The Company has filed a report with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding the need for additional testing and vehicle modifications to certify its C-1000 vehicles under FMVSS, and intends to fully coordinate with NHTSA.

The Company has not received any customer reports of safety issues related to this matter in any of the C-1000 vehicles previously delivered by Workhorse.

Additional details will be available in the Company’s filing with NHTSA.

Accordingly, the Company’s previous statements related to the C-1000’s compliance with NHTSA standards cannot be relied upon and the Company has so notified the Securities and Exchange Commission.

#Cowen analyst Jeffrey #Osborne lowered his price target on the company to $7.50 from $8.50, and also reduced his estimates for 2021 and 2022 after the announcement, saying a “turnaround appears more challenging.” The analyst also expects working capital to likely be challenged due to prepayments for batteries and other critical materials.

According to some reports, the company is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as disappointment related to losing out on a U.S. Postal Service contract that many had expected Workhorse to win.

WKHS closed at $7.41. Shares have a 52-week high of $42.96.

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Spectrum Brands shares soar on sale of it’s division

Spectrum Brands agrees to sell Hardware & Home Improvement segment for $4.3B

Spectrum Brands Holdings (SPB) announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its HHI segment to ASSA ABLOY (ASAZY) for $4.3B in cash, which it said represents over 14 times HHI’s expected FY21 Adjusted EBITDA.

Upon closing of the transaction, Spectrum Brands expects to receive approximately $3.5B in net proceeds, subject to final tax calculations and purchase price adjustments.

Spectrum Brands expects to use the proceeds from this transaction to repay debt and reduce its gross leverage ratio to approximately 2.5x times in the near term.

Excess proceeds are expected to be allocated to invest for organic growth, fund complementary acquisitions and return capital to shareholders.

The company expects to maintain its quarterly cash dividend of 42c per common share, which will be subject to the company’s continued review from time to time.

The sale of HHI is expected to close following the receipt of certain regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions.

The results of operations of HHI will be reported as discontinued operations beginning in the fourth quarter of 2021. David Maura, CEO of Spectrum Brands, said, “I am exceedingly proud of the fact that our Hardware & Home Improvement business nearly doubled its EBITDA under Spectrum Brands’ ownership.

I am pleased to know that HHI has found a new home with a great partner, and I am confident that ASSA ABLOY will take it to its highest potential, bringing great value and innovation to consumers for generations to come.

We believe this transaction demonstrates the tremendous value of Spectrum Brands as an owner and steward of our businesses and places the Company in a strong position for the future by allowing us to further reduce our leverage levels, and enhance our capital allocation strategy.

Our remaining business will be more focused, allowing us to prioritize innovation to accelerate organic growth and pursue synergistic acquisitions to further drive value creation in Global Pet Care and Home & Garden, while continuing to look for strategic and organic ways to enhance the value of Home and Personal Care.

After the closing, we will become a more pure play consumer staples company with higher growth rates and strong margins.”

The company added: “Spectrum Brands will be a simplified business consisting of three focused business units with leading market share, strong growth opportunities and consistent performance.

The pro forma business generated $3.0B in net sales and $386 million in Adjusted EBITDA representing a 13.0% margin for the LTM period ended July 4, 2021.

Spectrum Brands will report its fourth quarter 2021 results in mid-November and expects to provide Fiscal 2022 Earnings Framework at that time.”

ASSA ABLOY AB is a Swedish company that provides door opening products, solutions, and services for the institutional, commercial, and residential markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Oceania.  In addition, the company offers entrance automation products, services, and components, such as automatic swing, sliding, and revolving doors; industrial doors; garage doors; high-performance doors; docking solutions; hangar doors; gate automation products; components for overhead sectional doors and sensors; and high security fencings and gates. The company provides its products primarily under the ASSA ABLOY, Yale, and HID brands.

Spectrum’s Hardware & Home Improvement segment offers hardware products under the National Hardware and FANAL brands; locksets and door hardware under the Kwikset, Weiser, Baldwin, EZSET, and Tell Manufacturing brands; and plumbing products under the Pfister brand. Its Home and Personal Care segment provides home appliances under the Black & Decker, Russell Hobbs, George Foreman, Toastmaster, Juiceman, Farberware, and Breadman brands; and personal care products under the Remington and LumaBella brands.

The company’s Global Pet Care segment provides rawhide chewing, dog and cat clean-up and food, training, health and grooming, small animal food and care, and rawhide-free products under the 8IN1 (8-in-1), Dingo, Nature’s Miracle, Wild Harvest, Littermaid, Jungle, Excel, FURminator, IAMS, Eukanuba, Healthy-Hide, DreamBone, SmartBones, ProSense, Perfect Coat, eCOTRITION, Birdola, and Digest-eeze brands.

ASAZY is down 38 cents to $15.53 per share while SPB is up $15 to $94.

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U.S. opposition leads to cancelation of merger

Aon plc, Willis Towers Watson mutually agree to terminate combination pact

Aon plc (AON) and Willis Towers Watson (WLTW) announced that the firms have agreed to terminate their business combination agreement and end litigation with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The proposed combination was first announced on March 9, 2020.

“Despite regulatory momentum around the world, including the recent approval of our combination by the European Commission, we reached an impasse with the U.S. Department of Justice,” said Aon CEO Greg Case.

“The DOJ position overlooks that our complementary businesses operate across broad, competitive areas of the economy. We are confident that the combination would have accelerated our shared ability to innovate on behalf of clients, but the inability to secure an expedited resolution of the litigation brought us to this point.”

In connection with the termination of the business combination agreement, Aon will pay the $1B termination fee to Willis Towers Watson, Willis Towers Watson’s proposed scheme of arrangement has now lapsed, and both organizations will move forward independently.

Aon CEO Greg Case gives up on the merger, pays $1B breakup fee

Both firms will provide further financial updates and outlooks on their respective Q2 2021 earnings calls, which take place on July 30 for Aon and August 3 for Willis Towers Watson.

Aon plc, a professional services firm, provides advice and solutions to clients focused on risk, retirement, and health worldwide. AON is based in Ireland.

Willis Towers Watson Public Limited Company operates as an advisory, broking, and solutions company worldwide. Willis is headquartered in London.

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Shareholder opposes sale of At Home

At Home Group shareholder calls on company to release Q2 interim sales results

CAS Investment Partners, which beneficially owns approximately 17% of the outstanding common stock of At Home Group (HOME), called on the company to release its interim sales results for Q2 in order to provide material information and keep stockholders informed as they consider the $37 per share tender offer made by funds advised by Hellman & Friedman.

As previously disclosed, CAS deems the $37 per share tender offer wholly inadequate and opposes the transaction on its current terms. Clifford Sosin, founder and portfolio manager of CAS, commented:

“We urge At Home to promptly release interim sales results for the second quarter of fiscal year 2022. Rather than keep stockholders in the dark about the Company’s continued momentum, we believe At Home should be providing them with as much information as possible.

Clifford Sosin, founder and portfolio manager of CAS

Stockholders should not be asked to make a decision about whether to tender into the meager H&F offer without first receiving an easily-prepared update on the current quarter. It is not as if At Home has not pre-released sales data in the past.

Stockholders should seriously question why the Company is not releasing this important information at a time when we need it the most?

According to credit card data analyzed by CAS, the Company’s second quarter same store sales are trending approximately 30% above 2019 levels. Sales appear to be remaining very strong even as the economy reopens and the impact of federal stimulus fades.

We contend that this information demonstrates the Company’s recent success is durable and not a temporary byproduct of the pandemic.

It appears to us that At Home and H&F are desperately trying to avoid releasing these numbers, as evidenced by the fact that the tender deadline ends five days before the close of the second quarter on July 20th.

We are concerned that this is due to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lee Bird being set up to make more than $100 million in compensation if the proposed transaction is completed.

We are equally concerned that H&F may already be exerting an inappropriate level of influence over the corporate governance decisions at the Company. Given we are At Home’s largest stockholder, we call on the Company to immediately respond to our request to disclose this material information and remind the independent directors of their fiduciary duties to At Home stockholders.”

On May 7, 2021, At Home Group Inc. agreed to be acquired by private equity firm Hellman and Friedman (H&F) for a total cash consideration of $2.8 billion, inclusive of debt assumption. Under the agreement, At Home shareholders will receive $36 in cash for each share held. HOME closed at $36.80.

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FDA Approves J&J’s one shot Covid-19 Vaccine

Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine granted emergency approval from FDA 

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the third vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease. The FDA has determined that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine has met the statutory criteria for issuance of an EUA. The totality of the available data “provides clear evidence that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement.

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The Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine is manufactured using a specific type of virus called adenovirus type 26. The vaccine uses Ad26 to deliver a piece of the DNA, or genetic material, that is used to make the distinctive “spike” protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the FDA said. While adenoviruses are a group of viruses that are relatively common, Ad26, which can cause cold symptoms and pink eye, has been modified for the vaccine so that it cannot replicate in the human body to cause illness, it added. After a person receives this vaccine, the body can temporarily make the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.

The EUA allows Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ) Janssen COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed in the U.S for use in individuals 18 years of age and older.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson also announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

The ACIP recommendation will be forwarded to the Director of the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for review and adoption.

Johnson & Johnson has begun shipping its COVID-19 vaccine and expects to deliver enough single-shot vaccines by the end of March to enable the full vaccination of more than 20M people in the U.S.

The company plans to deliver 100M single-shot vaccines to the U.S. during the first half of 2021. The U.S. government will manage allocation and distribution of the vaccine in the U.S.

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Palantir’s Bulls and Bears

Goldman Sachs upgrades the recent IPO while Citi says Sell

Palantir Technologies Inc. (PLTR) builds and deploys software platforms for the intelligence community in the United States to assist in counterterrorism investigations and operations.

It offers Palantir Gotham, a software platform for government operatives in the defense and intelligence sectors, which enables users to identify patterns hidden deep within datasets, ranging from signals intelligence sources to reports from confidential informants, as well as facilitates the handoff between analysts and operational users, helping operators plan and execute real-world responses to threats that have been identified within the platform.

The company also provides Palantir Foundry, a platform that transforms the ways organizations operate by creating a central operating system for their data; and allows individual users to integrate and analyze the data they need in one place. 

The company took the unusual route of becoming a public company by directly listing it’s shares and bypassing the brokers. Shares came public around $9 and shot up to $45 a share before pulling back. There were a number of brokers who made comments about the shares today following the company’s earnings.

Earnings

Palantir Technologies reported 4th Quarter December 2020 earnings of $0.07 per share on revenue of $322.1 million yesterday morning. The consensus earnings estimate was $0.02 per share on revenue of $300.4 million.

The company said it expects 2021 revenue of $1.42 billion or more. The current consensus revenue estimate is $1.41 billion for the year ending December 31, 2021.

Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs analyst Christopher #Merwin upgraded Palantir Technologies to Buy from Neutral with a price target of $34, up from $13. Palantir reported “strong” Q4 results and its Q1 guidance called for revenue growth of 45%, while fiscal 2021 revenue guidance was for 30%-plus, Merwin tells investors in a research note. The analyst is “encouraged” to see management guide to $4B of revenue in fiscal 2025, implying a 30% annual growth from fiscal 2020. With a growing backlog of $2.8B in deal value, there is increasing visibility into the achievability of that long-term target, says Merwin.

Further, the analyst believes Palantir’s recent efforts to modularize Foundry and add channel partners like IBM “should improve product market fit” for the commercial business in the coming quarters.

Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley analyst Keith #Weiss raised the firm’s price target on Palantir to $19 from $17, telling investors after the company’s Q4 report that Palantir’s results in FY20 showed a big expansion of existing customers, “huge leverage” in operating margins and the seeds for future distribution capability.

However, he keeps an Underweight rating on the shares as he would like to see evidence of effective investment behind the company’s opportunity to support growth and what he views as a “lofty valuation.”

Jefferies

Jefferies analyst Brent #Thill noted that Palantir reported a top and bottom line beat in Q4 along with “robust” large deal metrics and said it is targeting $4B or more in 2025 revenues, but that the stock remains under pressure due to Thursday’s lock-up expiry and the recent run-up that saw the stock up 35% year-to-date ahead of the report.

However, he views Palantir as “a highly unique story for long-term investors” given that he thinks its growth sustainability at significant scale, and “aggressive profitability ramp,” puts the stock “in rarified air” among software companies. Thill maintains a Buy rating on the stock, which he expects to “trend to $40,” his price target on Palantir shares.

RBC Capital

RBC Capital analyst Matthew #Hedberg raised the firm’s price target on Palantir to $27 from $15 and keeps a Sector Perform rating on the shares.

The company ended 2020 with a “solid” set of Q4 results while forecasting acceleration and margin improvement in Q1, the analyst tells investors in a research note. Hedberg adds however that while he is positive on Palantir’s catalysts, he remains on the sidelines due to the stock’s “full valuation”.

Citi

Citi analyst Tyler #Radke keeps a Sell rating on Palantir Technologies with a $15 price target following the company’s Q4 results.

The results featured “solid” reported revenue upside, but came with “signs of growth drivers narrowing with new customers growth still lacking and Commercial revenue missing expectations,” Radke tells investors in a research note.

The new five-year revenue target of $4B “looks high,” but ultimately may be a non-event for the stock, says the analyst. He thinks the stock is overvalued and “could be particularly volatile” into the upcoming lockup on February 18.

Insiders

Peter Thiel, Chairman, and well connected Washington insider

Several insiders have sold shares into the lockup expiry on Thursday but Peter Thiel, Chairman of the Board, reported a 5% ownership of the stock.

PLTR last traded at $28.50.

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Johnson & Johnson files for FDA approval of it’s Covid-19 Vaccine

 J&J submits FDA application for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) announced that Janssen Biotech, Inc., has submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requesting Emergency Use Authorization for its investigational single-dose Janssen COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

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JNJ files for approval of Covid-19 vaccine

The company’s EUA submission is based on topline efficacy and safety data from the Phase 3 ENSEMBLE clinical trial, demonstrating that the investigational single-dose vaccine met all primary and key secondary endpoints.

The Company expects to have product available to ship immediately following authorization. “Today’s submission for Emergency Use Authorization of our investigational single-shot COVID-19 vaccine is a pivotal step toward reducing the burden of disease for people globally and putting an end to the pandemic,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson.

“Upon authorization of our investigational COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, we are ready to begin shipping. With our submission to the FDA and our ongoing reviews with other health authorities around the world, we are working with great urgency to make our investigational vaccine available to the public as quickly as possible.”

Johnson & Johnson intends to distribute vaccine to the U.S. government immediately following authorization, and expects to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. in the first half of 2021.

JNJ last traded at $161.99.

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