Top US stocks: Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet

Apple unveils the new iPhone, Microsoft ups its dividend and launches a new buyback, Google stresses the economic benefits it brings, Big Tech acquisitions are under the spotlight, Eli Lilly and Regeneron get orders for their Covid-19 therapies, and Ford and Walmart team-up.

USA (1)

Apple

Apple unveiled the next generation of iPhones yesterday touting faster speeds, better batteries and improved displays and cameras, alongside the new Series 7 Apple Watch and iPad Mini.

All four versions of its new phone – the iPhone 13, the mini, Pro and the Pro Max – have a new processor to unlock new features made possible by 5G as well as upgrades to displays and cameras. The iPad Mini has been redesigned and is now 5G enabled, while the new Apple Watch will have a significant visual redesign. The iPhones will be launched on September 24, although the new watch won’t be available until later this fall due to production problems. The price of the new iPhones is largely in-line with those outlined at the launch event last year, ranging from $699 to $1099.

Without any blockbuster hardware to unveil, the focus was on demonstrating the benefits of upgrading to 5G, with many consumers holding on to older phones in the belief that the upgrade is not worth making just yet, in the hope of encouraging more people to make the switch from 4G. A number of telecoms carriers said they will offer significant discounts on new iPhones when customers trade in their old phones as they too want people to upgrade.

Microsoft

Microsoft announced yesterday that it has raised its quarterly dividend and launched a new share buyback.

The company raised its quarterly dividend to $0.62 per share, up 11% from the previous quarter. That will be paid on December 9 to those on the register at the close on November 18, with shares to go ex-dividend on November 17. That was accompanied by the launch of a new $60 billion share buyback programme, which has no end date.

That came as Microsoft announced it has appointed president Brad Smith as vice chair of the business, which it described as an updated executive role. Smith has been with the company since 1993.

Alphabet

Alphabet’s Google has said it provides of KRW12 trillion, equal to around $10.2 billion, worth of economic benefits for its users in South Korea as it fights against increasing regulatory pressure in the country.

South Korea’s antitrust regulator fined Google KRW207 billion yesterday for abusing its dominant position in the smartphone market by stifling competition against its Android operating system, following changes in the law earlier this year that forced Google and Apple to open up their app stores to third-party payment processors.

Google said in an online event that it provides KRW5.1 trillion worth of annual benefits for its users in South Korea through its Play Store, KRW4.2 trillion through its search engine, and KRW2.5 trillion through productivity apps like Google Docs. The company is keen to stress the benefits it brings to regulators to demonstrate why it should not be penalised, having said it will appeal the latest fine.

Big Tech

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is set to present their findings from an investigation into smaller acquisitions made by Big Tech companies over the years that were too small to flag any regulatory review.

The FTC has been looking at deals struck by Facebook, Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon over acquisitions made between 2010 and 2019. It has previously taken a hard stance, having already sued Facebook and asked regulators to unwind its acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp.

Reports suggest the FTC will recommend stricter guidelines for vertical mergers.

Eli Lilly and Regeneron

The US government has purchased more doses of Covid-19 treatments as it battles against a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant.

Eli Lilly announced today that the US government has purchased an additional 388,000 doses of its Covid-19 treatment in a deal that will deliver around $330 million in revenue for the company in the second half of 2021. It said the doses of etesevimab will complement the doses of bamlanivimab that were previously purchased by the US government. Around 200,000 doses will be shipped in the third quarter with the rest sent out in the fourth.

That followed on from news yesterday from Regeneron, which said the US government had bought an additional 1.4 million doses of its antibody cocktail named REGEN-COV, taking total orders to 3 million doses. Regeneron said it would be charging $2,100 per dose and said the vast majority will be shipped in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Snap

Snap, the owner of social media platform Snapchat, has hired its first global head of platform safety, according to reports from Reuters, as it looks to bolster its position as regulators place mounting pressure on social media firms.

The report said Snap has hired Jacqueline Beauchere to the position, which will act as the primary contact to safety regulators and lawmakers. She will also be charged with implementing new policies and initiatives to improve the platform. Beauchere joins from a 20-year stint at Microsoft, during which she served as its chief online safety officer.

The move comes as Snap, which is particularly popular with younger generations, embarks on its journey in augmented reality, having launched its new AR glasses earlier this year.

AT&T

AT&T said yesterday that it is hoping to complete the merger of its WarnerMedia division with Discovery before the end of June 2022.

The company is currently in the process of unwinding its media division to combine them with Discovery, creating a new unit named Warner Bros Discovery, leaving it focused on its core business of providing telecoms and internet services. It said, after the deal completes, AT&T will deliver annual revenue growth in the low single digits on a compound annual growth rate basis between 2022 to 2024, with earnings to grow by mid-single digits. It also said it intends to pay $8 to $9 billion worth of dividends after the deal closes, based on generating $20 billion of free cashflow in 2023.

Elsewhere, AT&T said it has managed to reduce churn among phone subscribers and reiterated its ambitions to hook-up 30 million locations to full-fibre by the end of 2025.

It also said demand remains healthy for HBO Max both in the US and overseas, with plans to expand into six European countries next month alone. It said most subscriber growth from HBO Max in the second half will come from outside the US after deciding to stop offering it as a subscription on Amazon Channels. Still, it said its target to end 2021 with 70 to 73 million global HBO Max subscribers takes this into account.

Ford and Walmart

Automaker Ford, retail giant Walmart and self-driving startup Argo AI have announced plans to launch an autonomous delivery service across four US cities.

Competition in the last-mile delivery market continues to increase, and this marks Walmart’s first self-driving collaboration across multiple cities. The service will be launched in Miami, Austin, Texas and Washington DC. Ford will provide the vehicles, Argo AI the self-driving capabilities, and Walmart will be one the handling the orders sent out to customers.

The firms said initial integration testing of the service will begin later this year. Notably, Ford and Argo AI are already working together by testing their self-driving capabilities in Miami and Washington DC, where the pair have been establishing hubs that can keep fleets running.

Coinbase

Cryptocurrency platform Coinbase said it has upsized its new debt offering to around $2 billion from $1.5 billion after experiencing stronger than expected demand from the markets.

The news came as it priced $1 billion worth of 3.375% senior notes due to expire in 2028 and $1 billion worth of 3.625% senior notes due to expire in 2031. The funds are to be used for general corporate purposes, product development and M&A.

Kansas City Southern

Canadian National Railway has informed Kansas City Southern that it is unlikely to table an improved takeover offer ahead of the deadline on Friday, paving the way for rival Canadian Pacific Railway to create the first network spanning Canada, the US and Mexico, according to reports from Reuters.

Kansas City Southern has accepted a $27.2 billion deal to merge with Canadian Pacific, having opted for greater regulatory certainty over the higher $29.6 billion offer tabled by Canadian National. That deal will go ahead unless Canadian National tables an improved offer by Friday, which is now off the table, according to an unnamed source.

Citrix Systems

Citrix Systems is working with advisers to explore a sale of the company, according to news reports from Bloomberg.

The decision comes after a sharp drop in its share price and it plans to test the appetite among potential buyers over the next few weeks, according to unnamed sources. A final decision on a sale has not been made. It follows on from activist investor Elliott Management taking a 10% stake in the workplace software maker, according to the report.

Citrix tried to sell itself back in 2017 but talks broke down with potential suitors as they could not agree on a suitable valuation.

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