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Dow Jones Newswires: U.K.’s competition watchdog opens probe into Roche takeover of Spark Therapeutics

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority has opened an investigation into the acquisition of Spark Therapeutics Inc. by Roche Holding AG.

The regulator said it is looking into whether the deal will result in a substantial lessening of competition, and has set Dec. 16 as its deadline to decide whether it will continue the investigation.

Roche

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 said it agreed to buy the Philadelphia biotechnology company

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  in February in a bid to expand its presence in hemophilia treatment.

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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Dow Jones Newswires: Reckitt Benckiser cuts 2019 guidance after weak performance

Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC on Tuesday cut its guidance for the second time this year after a weak performance from its health business, which was hurt by the U.S., China issues.

The consumer-goods company

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 , which houses Dettol, Harpic and durex among its brands, said it expects revenue for the year to be flat to 2% growth. At the time of its half-year earnings in July, the company lowered its guidance to between 2% to 3% growth from the previously guided 3% to 4%.

Revenue for the third quarter ended Sept. 30 rose 5.3% to 3.29 billion pounds ($4.27 billon) taking the total for the year to date to GBP9.53 billion. This compares with GBP3.12 billion and GBP9.26 billion for the same periods last year. On a like-for-like basis third-quarter revenue was up 1.6% and 0.9% for the year to date.

Within this the health unit’s revenue for the quarter was GBP1.96 billion, a 0.3% fall on a like-for-like basis compared with the third quarter of last year. This unit contributes 61% of the overall net revenue.

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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What the latest Brexit setback means for markets in a crunch week for the U.K.

Britain’s divorce from the European Union was once again in disarray on Monday after the House of Commons speaker John Bercow refused to allow politicians to hold a second vote on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.

That means that plans for the U.K. to leave the EU in 10 days will be on a knife edge as Johnson’s only remaining option is to try to push through the legislation needed for ratification.

But that will be a high-risk maneuver because opponents will try to wreck the legislation with amendments aimed at destroying Johnson’s deal in what will be a politically charged week fraught with twists and turns.

The market reaction to the latest setback was muted. The FTSE100

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 index of leading stocks closed at 7,163, up 12.07 points. The pound

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fell to $1.2962.

“Sterling has been sold off from levels above 1.30 against the U.S. dollar as Johnson’s plan to get Brexit done meets yet more obstacles,” said Chris Towner, a director at independent financial risk adviser JCRA. “This frustration will weigh on sterling but only to the extent that we have to wait for the timing of the inevitable vote. Sterling still looks like a compressed spring waiting for good news to lurch to another level higher.”

Bercow told parliament: “In summary, today’s motion is in substance the same as Saturday’s motion and the House [of Commons] has decided the matter. My ruling is therefore that the motion will not be debated today as it would be repetitive and disorderly to do so.”

The speaker, who is supposed to be an impartial adjudicator, was immediately accused of bias by Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative Party lawmaker.

The controversial Bercow, who is being replaced at the end of the month, was accused recently of tarnishing the role of speaker with his bias by fellow Tory politician Shailesh Vara, who said he “at times behaved like a playground bully,” a charge Bercow denies.

Despite the setback, Johnson said ministers were confident they had the numbers to push a deal through parliament.

Rupert Thompson, head of research at investment firm Henderson Rowe, said: “We have not made any major adjustment to our portfolios in light of the continuing uncertainties and retain a somewhat cautious stance on UK equities.

“A deal would very much just mark the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. The lack of clarity over the UK’s future trading relationships will surely remain a significant drag on UK growth for a long time yet, albeit less than before.”

Over the weekend, Johnson was forced to send a letter to the EU requesting a delay to Brexit, but he sent another one effectively saying he does not mean it.

In a note, the PM explained that the government was just complying with the law by sending the letter. He followed up with a photocopy of the text he was compelled to send under the law, known as the Benn Act. Crucially Johnson refused to sign the text. He then sent another letter spelling out that he did not actually want an extension.

“I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister and made clear to parliament again today [Saturday], my view, and the Government’s position, (is) that a further extension would damage the interests of the U.K. and our EU partners, and the relationship between us,” he wrote in that letter.

The developments promised more uncertainty in a yearslong battle over Britain’s future and its ties with the EU. Opponents of Brexit fear, among other things, that departure from the trading block will hurt trade and the overall economy. Those favoring separation say Britain after Brexit will be more independent and not bound by the rules and regulations of the EU.

Investors in the U.S. have mostly shrugged off the developments in the U.K. as the U.S. trade war with China and its dampening effects on the economy have taken most of the attention.

On Saturday Johnson was forced to postpone a key vote in Parliament that was aimed at getting his Brexit agreement approved.

Politicians had gathered Saturday morning for a historic meeting in the House of Commons—the first time they had assembled on a Saturday since Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. It marked only the fourth Saturday they have met in 80 years.

Johnson’s plans were frustrated after opponents delayed the legislation in a move to derail Brexit, and the prime minister sent lawmakers home without voting on the deal.

Oliver Letwin, a former Conservative minister, tabled an amendment to delay agreeing on any deal until all the legislation needed to implement it has been passed through Parliament.

That amendment was carried by 322 votes to 306, which meant the politicians would have withheld approval of the prime minister’s deal until the legislation to enact it had been passed.

The motivation was to remove any possibility of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Saturday was a day of high drama as thousands of people marched through central London calling for another “People’s Vote” to check that the U.K. is happy to leave the EU under the new withdrawal agreement.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, and his 12-year-old son Peter Theodore Alphege, had to be escorted home by police as pro-EU protesters hurled abuse at them shouting “shame on you,” “traitor” and “scumbag.”

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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Dow Jones Newswires: Ams profit climbs, sees revenue rising towards end-year

Ams AG said Tuesday that its third-quarter net profit rose and it expects revenue to increase during the last three months of the year.

The Swiss technology company

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 posted net profit of $158 million during the period, up from $65.8 million last year. Revenue rose 41% to $645 million.

The company said that results were driven by its consumer solutions unit and good performance in the smartphone market.

Ams expects to book revenue of between $610 million and $650 million during its fourth quarter, which would represent a 28% year-on-year increase at the midpoint.

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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Dow Jones Newswires: Santander sells Puerto Rico business for $1.1 billion

Banco Santander SA has agreed to sell its retail and commercial operations in Puerto Rico to FirstBank Puerto Rico for about $1.1 billion.

The transaction should add 5 or 6 basis points to Santander’s

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 core Tier 1 ratio–a measure of a bank’s capital strength–and have no material impact on its net profit, it said late Monday.

The deal includes 27 bank branches and assets of $6.2 billion, the Spanish bank said.

Santander will keep operating on the island including through Santander Consumer USA.

The deal is expected to close by mid-2020.

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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Hoping to Find Gold, Rio Tinto Strikes Lithium Instead

SYDNEY—Rio Tinto PLC thinks it can become the biggest domestic producer of lithium in the U.S. without digging a new hole in the ground.

Rio Tinto plans to process piles of waste rock with chemicals at its operation at Boron in the Californian desert in a bet that they contain vast stores of lithium, a sought-after mineral that helps to power the world’s electric-vehicle fleet. A test plant is under construction at the 90-year-old mine that has thrived on production of a different commodity—borates—until now.

Source: WSJ.com: Markets
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Dow Jones Newswires: Novartis net income climbs as drug sales grow

Novartis AG said Tuesday that net income rose 8% in the third quarter as it benefited from growing sales across its drug portfolio.

Net income in the period was $2.04 billion, growing from $1.88 billion last year, on sales that rose 10% to $12.17 billion. An analyst consensus forecast provided by FactSet estimated quarterly net income of $2.47 billion and sales of $11.71 billion.

The Swiss drug giant

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 singled out cardiovascular drug Entresto as well as psoriasis treatment Cosentyx as helping drive topline growth.

Core operating profit, a figure watched by analysts that strips out extraordinary items, was $3.75 billion, up from $3.26 billion

Sales of Zolgensma, a gene-therapy for infant spinal muscular atrophy and which is now the world’s most expensive drug, totaled $160 million, well ahead of the $90 million forecast by analysts at French brokerage Kepler Cheuvreux.

In August, Novartis disclosed that data manipulation occurred during the development of the therapy, with two researchers exiting the company in the wake of the scandal.

Novartis said that it expects sales in 2019 for its focused medicines company to grow by a high single-digit percentage at constant currency. Core operating income is expected to grow by a mid-to-high teen percentage, also stripping out currency effects.

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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Dow Jones Newswires: UBS profit drops, warns trade tensions weighing on investors

UBS Group AG said Tuesday that its third-quarter net profit declined, hit by the performance of its investment bank, and warned that trade conflicts and geopolitical tensions continue to weigh on investor confidence.

The Swiss bank’s

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 net profit for the period was $1.05 billion compared with $1.25 billion a year earlier.

Operating income fell to $7.09 billion from $7.43 billion.

Analysts had expected a profit of $971 million on operating income of $7.10 billion, according to a consensus forecast provided by the bank.

Adjusted pretax profit fell 59% on year at the bank’s investment bank arm, while it was down 2% at its key wealth-management operations.

“We delivered solid results generating attractive returns, considering the market conditions,” Chief Executive Sergio Ermotti said.

The bank said the low-interest-rate environment will hit net interest income, while trade tensions and geopolitical issues hurt investor confidence.

“Our regional and business diversification, along with actions that we are taking, will help to mitigate these headwinds. Recurring revenues should also benefit from higher invested assets,” it said.

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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Here’s the final trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

Did you feel a great disturbance in The Force? As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in glee?

That was just the sound of fans getting their first peek at the final trailer for the upcoming movie “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” on Monday night.

The eagerly anticipated trailer made its debut during halftime of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” and was likely the most exciting part of the game for all but Patriots fans (New England led the New York Jets, 24-0, at halftime). The first trailer dropped in August.

“The Rise of Skywalker,” directed by JJ Abrams, is the third movie in the latest “Star Wars” installment, and the conclusion of the nine-movie series involving Luke Skywalker and his father.

The film is expected to be another blockbuster hit for LucasFilm and Walt Disney Co.

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 when it opens in theaters worldwide Dec. 20. The first installment of the current trilogy — 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — grossed $937 million domestically, and its follow-up, 2017’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” grossed $620 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.

Advance ticket sales also kicked off Monday night, with at least one ticket site reporting sales right out of the gate.

And for the true die-hard fans, AMC Theaters

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  will hold a 27-plus-hour marathon screening of all nine movies starting Dec. 18.

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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The CEO of this robo-taxi company believes it has the inside track on rivals

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — For Aicha Evans, the road to a “robo-taxi” is as much a journey to culture-shifting change as it is for leadership in a multibillion-dollar industry.

“We want to make a profound impact in how we live as a society,” says Evans, the former Intel Corp.

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 executive who took over the helm of self-driving startup Zoox Inc. in early 2019.

“We want to redesign, recycle and rethink the industry,” Evans told MarketWatch from Zoox’s headquarters in Foster City, Calif.

The Silicon Valley company has been steeped in secrecy for most of its five years of existence. Few have seen its electric car, described in a Bloomberg News report as a “carlike robot about the size and shape of a Mini Cooper.” What tests it has performed of its software system have been in Toyota

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 Highlanders traversing the streets of San Francisco and Las Vegas for several months. A commercial pilot is expected in 2021.

How Zoox expects to compete with Alphabet Inc.’s

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 Waymo self-driving subsidiary, Cruise, Aurora, and others is as audacious as Evans’ quest to offer a “moving living room” of luxury that doesn’t contribute to parking and environmental problems. Zoox has burned through hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and is taking a radically different approach.

She’s convinced that Zoox’s approach — design a unique two-seat car without a steering wheel, pedals and dashboard rather than retrofit an auto to be autonomous — will quickly establish it as one of a handful of market leaders.

A fleet of some 40 vehicles were manufactured in the East Bay, and the mystery robo-taxi is being tested at an undisclosed location, also in the region.

Heidi Roizen, a partner at Threshold Ventures who is a member of Zoox’s board, goes so far as to call it a “moonshot” — with immense upside because it tightly blends a unique hardware design with a proprietary software system.

But steep goals also come with high hurdles in terms of technology and manufacturing, warns at least one venture capitalist.

Building a truly autonomous robo-taxi service “is a MASSIVE undertaking,” Brett Battles, a partner at AV8 Ventures, an early-stage venture fund, told MarketWatch in an email message. “Zoox has already raised almost $800M and will likely need more. They also need millions of road miles to train all the AI and computer vision algorithms (which is where Waymo has a massive lead on all competitors).”

Another concern is the absence of a safety driver in a vehicle — as Zoox, Waymo, and others ultimately plan — and its impact on the well-being of its passengers. “We’re headed to a modular train rather than an automobile,” T.J. Rylander, a partner at venture firm Next47, told MarketWatch. To get there, he said, autonomous cars must be 10 to 100 times safer than traditional cars, which contribute to 37,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.

Evans acknowledges the industry has gone from “hype cycle” to “doubt cycle,” but consumers increasingly are getting more comfortable stepping into autonomous vehicles. Driverless cars, for example, have become a staple at CES in Las Vegas in the past few years as the technology gets closer to becoming reality.

Until it surfaces, expect to see plenty of Evans, an engaging sort who has recently raised her profile with speaking gigs at this week’s WSJ Tech Live conference in Southern California, and at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco earlier this month.

Evans joined the company in early 2019. It was time, the 12-year Intel veteran concluded, to move on to the next big risk. She said no to a big technology company she declined to identify before settling on Zoox, whose three-pronged mantra of “do no harm,” “complete the mission” and “make the experience great” appealed to her.

Quoting Madam Curie, Evans said it was time to start a new chapter. “She once said, ‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.’”

“I earned the right in my career not to work with a–holes,” says Evans, a native of Senegal who lived in France; Israel; Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; and Austin, Texas, before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012.

“It is normal for human beings to have trepidation about technology,” says Evans, an engineer by training. “I consider myself a balanced engineer who talks as much about the personal side.”

Source: MarketWatch.com – Top Stories
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