Pfizer agreed to pay $68 billion for Wyeth. The acquisition, one of the biggest ever in the drugs industry,
raised expectations of more consolidation. Around a third of the deal will be funded by debt, the remainder by stock and cash reserves. Coming amid the worst financial crisis in decades, the announcement provided stockmarkets with some welcome relief from the steady beat of glum news.
Pfizer was, however, among a number of companies that announced huge job cuts. The total ran to tens of thousands, including 65,000 in America in a single day. The International Labour Organisation, a UN agency, forecast that the number of unemployed people in the world would be higher by 18m this year than in 2007, but if its “worst-case scenario” came to pass the figure could be 50m.
The IMF’s chief economist said 2009 would be the world economy’s worst year since 1945. The fund reduced its forecast of global GDP growth to 0.5%, from the 2.2% it predicted last November. The United States’ economy is expected to shrink by 1.6%, the euro area’s by 2% and Japan’s by 2.6%. The IMF predicts that Britain’s economy will be the worst performer among big industrial nations, contracting by 2.8%. Boeing confirmed it was shedding 10,000 workers when it reported a $56m net loss for the fourth quarter. A long strike by machinists hurt production, which could suffer further if airlines cancel or defer orders during the downturn. Boeing recorded 662 net commercial-aircraft orders in 2008 (behind Airbus’s 777 net orders), down sharply on the 1,413 it scored in 2007.
John Thain’s departure from Bank of America continued to reverberate. Mr Thain stepped down as head of the bank’s global banking and wealth management division after it emerged that Merrill Lynch, which he once led, made a $15 billion loss in the fourth quarter, causing BofA to ask for more state aid to fund its acquisition
of the Wall Street firm. It also surfaced that Merrill accelerated some $4 billion in bonuses to staff before the completion of the government-backed takeover.
Meanwhile, Mr Thain admitted that spending $1.2m on refurbishing his office last year was “a mistake in the light of the world we live in today”. A $1,400 waste-paper basket was on the list of new items.
New York state’s comptroller said that bonuses paid by Wall Street firms to their New York City employees
(residents and commuters) fell by 44% in 2008, costing the state $1 billion in lost tax revenues and the city
Nomura’s quarterly loss of ¥343 billion ($3.7 billion) was its biggest since it adopted American accounting standards in 2001. The Japanese brokerage was hit by a triple blow: absorbing Lehman Brothers’ European and Asian business, which it bought after the investment bank’s demise; exposure to the collapse of Icelandic banks; and costs associated with Bernard Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme.
Santander offered to recompense private-banking clients who lost money in one of its funds that invested with Mr Madoff and said it would fork out €1.4 billion ($1.8 billion) in compensation. Observers were unsure if this would stop investors from suing the Spanish bank; a class-action lawsuit had just been lodged in a Florida
court. Santander is the first financial company to offer to settle claims resulting from the Madoff scandal.
ING’s chief executive resigned when the Dutch bank said it expected a big quarterly loss and would seek further government assistance.
ConocoPhillips reported a $31.8 billion net loss for the fourth quarter, mostly related to charges it took on writing down exploration and production assets it bought in 2006 and on its investment in Russia’s Lukoil (Conoco’s adjusted earnings were $1.9 billion).
Sony’s profit plummeted in the last three months of 2009. The Japanese electronics giant is on course to make a record annual loss.
Some £2.3 billion ($3.2 billion) was extended in loan guarantees to Britain’s car industry. The government stressed it was not a bail-out. Unions and business leaders said it was not enough, considering the vast sums of public assistance given to the country’s banks.
About to be pecked to death?
Investors responded positively to Yahoo!’s quarterly earnings. The internet company made a net loss of $303m; without charges and write-downs, it turned a profit of $238m. Carol Bartz, the new chief executive, said she was contemplating the future of Yahoo!’s search business, which Microsoft is interested in buying, but reflected that “this is not a company that needs to be pulled apart and left for the chickens.”
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