February 2017


Jefferies’ analyst sees more potential in the Hepatitis-C Vaccine maker

After establishing itself as the leading HCV and HIV drug maker, Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD) is all set to make its mark in the hepatitis B market. Brian Abrahams, an analyst at Jefferies, believes the $121 billion company has the potential to prove itself in the hepatitis B (HBV) market as well, but will take time to do so.

Gilead has led the HCV space with blockbuster drugs, Harvoni and Sovaldi, up until 2014; both the drugs accounted for 60% of the drug maker’s overall sales. However, in December 2014, rival drug maker AbbVie Inc. launched its competing drug Viekira Pak. Two quarters later, Gilead started witnessing declines in its HCV drugs’ prescription volumes in the US, suggesting that they are headed toward maturity. It only makes sense for the company to look ahead of its HCV franchise.

Last month, Gilead reported its fourth quarter of fiscal year 2014 (4QFY14) earnings. Even though the drug maker beat the Street on both its top and bottom line numbers, Harvoni sales in the US declined to $1.7 billion. Sovaldi sales fell even more drastically, plunging from $1.18 billion to $660 million.

Unlike Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B vaccines are more complicated in terms of development. Although curing the disease is possible, it would require combination therapy, in which immuno-enhancers and direct-acting antivirals get incorporated. However, a deeper understanding of integration of these parts is required.

Mr. Abrahams held a meeting with experts to discuss Gilead’s non-HCV pipeline. He remained positive on the drug maker’s efforts, and particularly praised candidate GS-5475. GS-5475 is a pipeline drug being tested against a number of conditions, including ulcerative colitis, crohn’s disease, gastric cancer, solid tumors, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The analyst believes Gilead could conquer the HBV space as well, as it has potential to make meaningful revenues in the market. He reiterated his Hold rating and $100 price target on the stock. For the month ended February 29, Gilead shares rose 3.81%, while the Nasdaq iShares Biotechnology (IBB) Index declined 5.37%.

Gilead has other HBV drugs moving up the pipeline as well. Another investigational HBV candidate, tenofovir alafenamide fumarate (TAF), received approval on its Marketing Authorization Application (MAA) from the European Medicines Agency late last month. This represents a vital milestone for the drug maker, given that its previous HBV treatment, Viread, will expire in 2017.

The hepatitis B virus is about 100 times more infectious than the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This adds another reason for Gilead to expand into the attractive market.


The Lifting Cost for Petrobras was at $14.6 per barrel of oil equivalent, which declined to $12 in 2015

Return of 135.12% in Year-to-Date (YTD) trading for Petroleo Brasileiro SA Petrobras (ADR) (NYSE:PBR) reflects the measures taken by the company to put itself on right track, and regain the lost confidence of its investors. The company has fought hard to slash its costs, even when the oil prices were dipping continuously. 

With reduced costs, along with higher realization of crude oil prices on back of OPEC and Non-OPEC’s deal, one could expect the performance to have further room for improvement. The company has shifted its focus towards assets which would yield a higher level of productivity being developed in a shorter time span. This is the strategy to produce from its low cost assets and report a better return on each barrel produced. 

In the past few years, due to some proactive measures undertaken by the management, the operating costs have declined substantially. The Lifting Cost for Petrobras was at $14.6 per barrel of oil equivalent, which declined to $12 in 2015. Now it is expected to be at $11 for current year, while $9.6 for the ongoing years. 

In addition, the plan for lower Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) is also working well for the company. As per the company’s latest business management plan, the total outlay over the period between 2017-2021 is expected to be lower by around $74.1 billion, which would be a reduction of 25% as compared to what the company had done during the period between 2015-2019. 

Hence, lower Capital Expenses and Lower operational costs could prove to be tailwind for Petrobras in the future. Moreover, the production numbers are also expected to improve, i.e. increase of 30% from 2017, the overall return on each barrel produced would be better and better with the passage of time as oil prices have also recovered. 

The financial performance of the company is also on an improving trend. Last year, the company’s Earnings per Share (EPS) was at $1.60, while the Street’s estimate for current and next year is of $0.05 and $0.52 per share, respectively. Such numbers reflect analysts’ confidence in the company’s performance and also seconds our bullish stance on Petrobras

The social networking giant is making changes to the Trending feature to make the product more automated and eliminate the potential for human bias

As the influence grows, Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has updated its popular Trending feature to stress neutrality and to further eliminate the potential for biasness. The feature that shows most talked about topics of the day came under scrutiny two months ago when a news report stated it suppressed conservative news. This prompted a demand for enhanced transparency from US Congress Republican members. However, Facebook itself didn’t find any evidence of bias upon internal probe.

Facebook said in a blog post on Friday, that the users would now see a simplified topic in Trending section at the top right hand of the home page instead of seeing a description of story. This would be based on the number of post shares and mentions about the topic. To further see the discussions related to a topic, users may hover or click on it. The source of the news would be mentioned in search results page along with the original news story. The social media giant wrote in the blog post, “A search results page will include the news sources that are covering it, posts discussing it and an automatically selected original news story with an excerpt pulled directly from the top article itself. As before, articles and posts that appear in search results are surfaced algorithmically, based on a high volume of mentions and a sharp increase in mentions over a short period of time.”

Facebook said that a group of people make sure that the trending topics remain high quality. It stated that much of the home page content across Facebook is personalized, based on your location, pages you have liked, previously interacted topics, and overall trending topics across the website. With this update, Facebook team will be making fewer individual decisions about trending stories as it would rely more on an algorithm to directly pull excerpts from news stories.

Micron Technology, Inc. outlook weakens on oversupply of DRAM amid 2016

The market is currently worried about the declining demand for DRAM which will eventually hit Micron Technology, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:MU) revenue for 2016; as 58% of the company’s revenue is dependent on DRAM and the rest comes from NAND. The softness in smartphone sales amid the year also suggests the same as 32% of Micron Technology DRAM revenue is attributable to mobile DRAM. Moreover, the market analysts project a loss per share for the year because of anticipated price decline in DRAM due to oversupply.

UBS recently lowered its price target to $15 from $16.50 while maintaining a Buy rating for the stock.  The research analysts believe that the supply growth of 22% on year-over-year (YoY) is higher than the demand amid the year due to weakness in PC OEMs and mobile demand. Moreover, the firm also predicts a price decline in DRAM and NAND flash during the second quarter.

Susquehanna has also downwardly revised its rating and price objective for Micron Technology stock. The research firm in a recent note showed its concern about softening PC demands and its effect on the company’s sales. The research analyst believes that DRAM demand will increase by 20% amid 2016 on year-over-year (YoY) basis which is lower than the previous expected demand increase of 23-25%. Therefore, the firm reduced its rating on Micron Technology to a Neutral with a slash in price target to $10 from $15.

Micron Technology has a consensus rating of an Outperform with a 12-month consensus price target of $15.89. Moreover, the bearish and bullish price range on the company’s stock stands at $8-22.5. Across the Street, six analysts have rated Micron Technology stock as a Buy, 15 recommend an Outperform, while, eight suggest a Hold.

At the start of 2016, several stocks lost their market value but as the year is passing by, companies are showing recovering trends. However, Micron Technology stock couldn’t recover from the sharp decline to $10.05 in mid-January from $14.82 at the start of January and still trading in the range of $11.33-11.60 as of 7:44AM EDT on March 23. The company’s stock has lost almost 19.21% of market value against decline in Dow Jones Index and S&P 500 by 0.12% and 0.67% year-to-date (YTD), respectively. Micron Technology has a market capitalization of $12.28 billion with a total float of 1.04 billion shares. The company has a wide 52-week range of $9.31-29.78 with an average daily trading volume of 22.39 million shares.


The Country Caller takes a look at various winners in the semiconductor space, today

It seems like the investor confidence around the entire semiconductor market is improving as several chipmaking stocks including Micron Technology and Advanced Micro Devices jumped in today’s trading session. The overall semiconductor space came under fire in the start of calendar year 2015, mainly because of the industry wide softness stemming from the continued decline in PC fundamentals. The semiconductor stock, PHLX (SOX) also jumped as much as 1% in today’s trading session, reflecting the improving investor sentiment on aforementioned stocks.

Micron Technology:

Micron Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ:MU) stock rallied more than 3.5% in today’s trading session, continuing its upward trajectory. Shares of the semiconductor company have now surged more than 18% in the last 30 days, compared to its close rival Seagate Technology which witnessed a jump of 15% in its share price.
Last week, analysts at Morgan Stanley issued a bullish statement pertaining to deteriorating dynamic random access memory (DRAM) prices. The research firm maintained an Outperform rating on Micron Technology along with the twelve-month price target of $18. Morgan Stanley expects the overall DRAM spending to fall 30% for the current year 2016, which will have an inversely positive effect on its pricing and Micron’s profitability.

Advanced Micro Devices:

Shares of the GPU maker, Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMD) rallied more than 5.5% in today’s trading session, hitting its new 52-week high of $5.39. The semiconductor giant has already made headlines in the past couple of months, especially after reporting its first quarter financial results. AMD stock has surged more than 111.6% in the last six months.

The company managed to post better-than-expected results for its first quarter of 2016, after which its share price skyrocketed to record highs. AMD posted $832 million in total revenues, compared to the Street’s expectations of $818.16 million. Moreover, the company reported adjusted loss per share (LPS) of 12 cents, surpassing its consensus estimate by a single cent. Last week, analysts at Canaccord boosted its rating on AMD stock from a Hold to a Buy, citing significant upside potential in the foreseeable future.

The GPU will take the fight to Radeon RX-480 in the mainstream segment

We are just a day away from NVIDIA Corporation’s (NASDAQ:NVDA) Pascal celebration event in Melbourne, Australia, where it is strongly expected that GeForce GTX 1060 will be unveiled. We have received multiple rumors and leaks since last week, now we have the performance figures for GTX 1060.

3DMark Fire Strike score for the GPU has popped up online and it shows stronger performance than Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMD) Radeon RX-480 (via WCCFTECH). GPU-Z shot reveals the GTX 1060 has 48 ROPs, 106 Texture Mapping Units, 1280 CUDA Cores and 6GB GDDR5 memory at a 192-bit memory interface with 192.2 GB/s bandwidth. The Base/Boost Clock is 1506 Mhz/1709 Mhz.

In Fire Strike, GTX 1060 earns a score of 11225 and 3014 in Fire Strike Ultra. This is faster than what AMD’s Radeon RX-480 has achieved in the same test. But what makes it more interesting is that these benchmarks were not done using the latest official driver. The word is that NVIDIA is yet to make the official driver available to reviewers, so what we’re seeing is inconclusive in terms of performance and GTX 1060 has the potential to perform better once.

It was recently discovered that GTX 1060 does not feature SLI configuration support. Multiple shots of the GPU reveal lack of any SLI bridge connection, which confirmed the rumor that claimed as such. This could be NVIDIA’s attempt to protect its high-end GPUs for any potential danger from one of their own GPUs. GTX 1060 is able to deliver to deliver performance that is equal to GTX 980.

The mainstream segment will be the place where rivalry between NVIDIA and AMD takes place first. AMD has positioned the RX-480 at an MSRP of $199, even if NVIDIA prices GTX 1060 at $249 it can give serious competition to AMD’s Radeon.

Uncharted 4 is set to be the greatest game of the generation

Sony Corp.’s (NYSE:SNE) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is just days away from release and so far, the final installment to the franchise is all set to be the biggest release of the current console generation. Reviews for the game have so far been incredible, helping it reach the highest rated mark on MetaCritic for all games released this generation.

According to the official MetaCritic page for the game, the average score for Uncharted 4 comes in at a whopping 94 out of 100 after the aggregation of around 70 reviews. This is the highest rating for a console game this generation, if you do not take into account the scores of remastered games like The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V. If we are to compare the highest rated games for PC, we find that CDPR’s The Witcher 3 holds the record in that category with an average score of 93 out of 100.

Some might notice that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain holds the record for the highest score of 95 in the Microsoft Corporation’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One category but this score is not accurate since it is only based on 10 reviews.

That being said, Uncharted 4 is definitely going to be a great masterpiece. Even Xbox’s head, Phil Spencer, recently congratulated Sony and Shuhei Yoshida on creating such an impressive piece of work. Spencer congratulated the team on creating another great Uncharted game in a tweet and in reply, Yoshida acknowledged the kind gesture. Console rivalry aside, a good game is always worth the praise no matter what platform it is on and Uncharted is not just a good game, it is one of the greatest games to be seen in history. We cannot wait to get our hands on the copy of the game this May 10 when Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End releases exclusively for the PlayStation 4.

Looks like a confession was in order at the EA investor Day conference

Electronic Arts Inc.’s (NASDAQ:EA) Battlefield 1 is probably set to be one of the greatest Battlefield games ever with the game’s trailer becoming the most liked video on YouTube and the hype train already running with full force. The surprise that the fans were given with the World War 1 setting has been received very well by the community and it has been very popular. However, it looks like if the head honchos at EA would’ve had their say, this setting might not have seen the light of the day.

In the recent EA’s annual investor day briefing, the head of EA Studios, Patrick Soderlund mentioned that when the idea of a World War I setting was brought to him, he initially rejected the proposal on the grounds of the “trench warfare not being exciting at all.” He said that he thought that it would be a step in the backward direction, especially considering the fact that most of the competition out there, including Activision Blizzard Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ATVI) Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, is aiming for a futuristic setting.

Soderlund also said that DICE eventually convinced him to give the go ahead for the idea under the condition that the studio turns it into something very different than just trench warfare. And this is what DICE is aiming for, it looks like. According to the statement given by DICE, the team is working hard to fight off the perceived preconceptions about the World War I setting and they are going to make sure that the game has the “best gameplay and story in the Battlefield franchise so far.”

Since there is not much known about Battlefield 1 other than a few details from the trailer, there is not much that we can say as of right now. However, it is worth noting that the EA Play event is just around the corner and we can expect to see more on the game at the conference next month. Until then, we can only continue to drool at the amazing sneak peek offered by the Battlefield 1 trailer. Stay tuned for more.

Battlefield 1 is set for release on October 21 this year for Sony Corp.’s (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 4, Microsoft Corporation’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One and Windows PC

The Country Caller talks about the all-new Chrome, its optimization, and the performance upgrades

To make its Chrome browser even faster and leaner than it was before, Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has made efforts to utilize Microsoft’s Profile Guided Optimization (PGO) technology. Last month, the company announced projects that aim to bring down memory usage. However, with the availability of the new technology, Chrome on Windows is reported to run 15% faster than it did before.

PGO is a feature that belongs to Microsoft’s Visual Studio developer tools which keeps track of the user’s interaction with an application. Using this interactive data, the technology then re-compiles with the application in an effort to optimize the frequently used features of the application. Functions less used in applications are shrunk, which results in slightly slower codes. However, the end results allow an increase in overall performance of the application, and an overall smaller code print.

The company noted that Chrome is a huge software product with more than a million functions available. Some functions are used more frequently than others, which has made the use of PGO technology more viable. PGO technology is said to optimize the memory location of browser codes. It makes sure to keep frequent and rarely used functions away from each other.

This optimization technology was first introduced into the 64-bit build of Chrome, but is now available to all parts of Chrome 54 of the 32-bit version as well. As to the impact of the PGO technology, Google reported that the start-up time is now 16.8% faster. Compared to the previous versions, the new tab page loading is 14.8% faster. Additionally, page load time has seen a 5.9% boost in performance. Given that PGO isn’t exactly a new technology, it was a bit of surprise that the team didn’t use this technology earlier.

Apple has hit a serious road bump in its expansion plans for India

Earlier this month, Apple unveiled plans to start selling used/refurbished iPhones in India to make them more accessible to the masses. However, the company’s plans have been put to a grinding halt as Bloomberg reports that the telecommunication industry is refusing to allow Apple to sell the used devices. According to the report, Indian official bodies have turned down the U.S. company’s application. Apple on the other hand has declined to comment on the matter.

Selling used iPhones would have been a good strategy for Apple to penetrate the Indian smartphone market, where 80% of phones are priced under $150 and Apple only commands 2% of the market share. The recently unveiled iPhone Upgrade Program in the US, which allows users to trade in their used iPhone to get the newer models for a difference, must have left Apple with huge stocks on used iPhones which can be refurbished and sold. Targeting them to India would have worked out for Apple perfectly. However, regulations have inhibited the company’s efforts.

This refusal to allow Apple’s request doesn’t only stem from the government. The decision was skewed by a lobby of other mobile OEMs such as Samsung operating in the country. The lobby wrote a letter to the government asking the government to refuse Apple’s demands and that’s exactly what has happened. This move may have hindered Apple’s expansions plans to some extent, but that isn’t going to stop the company from continuing its efforts. It’s said that the company is planning to open it’s first retail flagship store in India which will be based on the notable design of the Fifth Avenue Apple Store.