Stocks in the news: Abbott Labs, H&R Block, Exco Resources

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The following post rounds up the companies making headlines today:

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) -- a Texas jury ordered Abbott to pay Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) $1.67 billion over alleged patent infringement over the companies' rheumatoid arthritis drugs Humira and Remicade respectively. Abbott is planning an appeal. ABT shares declined about 2 percent ahead of the bell.

H&R Block (HRB) gained nearly 6 percent in pre-market trade after the the tax preparer topped the Street's quarterly earnings esimate and gave an annual outlook that also surprised analysts. HRB's profit rose 26 percent in the quarter encompassing the main tax filing season as customers turned to its Internet service for tax preparation.

Exco Resources (XCO) and Britain's BG Group have agreed to form a gas-shale venture. BG will pay Exco $1.3 billion to team up with it on the venture, and in return will get a 50 percent interest in 120,000 net acres in East Texas and North Louisiana. Shale gas is natural gas stored in organic rich rocks that is difficult to produce. XCO shares jumped nearly 14 percent in pre-market trade.

Apollo Group Inc. (APOL) posted fiscal third-quarter profit and revenue that beat analyst estimates. It also said it had strong growth in student enrollments during its fiscal third quarter. Shares gained over 5 percent ahead of the bell.

Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE) said it will idle its U.S. operations for one week in the second, third and fourth quarters of its fiscal year, Bloomberg reported. Employees will be asked to take time off as paid time off, the company said.

Dell Inc. (DELL) is developing a pocket-sized electronic device for accessing the Internet that would run on Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android software usually used for mobile phones, according to The Wall Street Journal. Reports say the device is slightly larger than Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPod Touch and could go on sale in the second half of the year.

Ford Motor Co. (F) "expects its U.S. sales for June to be down 10 percent to 20 percent from a year earlier, giving it a higher share of the largest auto market amid early signs demand has begun to stabilize, an executive said Monday," CNBC reported. Shares gained over 3 percent ahead of the bell.

Amazon.com (AMZN) ended relationships with online affiliates in tax-happy states such as Rhode Island to avoid a new sales tax law in that state, The Wall Street Journal reported. Rhode Island joined North Caolina in passing a law requiring companies to collect sales tax on products sold through online-marketing affiliates.

American Express (AXP) leads the Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks with a year-to-date gain of 29.4 percent with one trading day left to the first half of 2009.

General Mills Inc. (GIS) raised the quarterly dividend by 4 cents to 47 cents.

Sanofi-Aventis (SNY) said Tuesday that it is considering a plan for voluntary staff departures as it closes eight of its 27 research and development sites. The French drugmaker will not be laying off staff, it said as it outlined a new R&D model under which it will combine its discovery research establishments in France.

Starbucks (SBUX) said it's changing the recipes on some of its food and will provide healthier and lighter options. Shares declined 1.5 percent in pre-market trade.

Vical Inc. (VICL) said its vaccine against A/H1N1 pandemic influenza, or swine flu, produced robust immune responses. The company said it is ready for a large-scale cGMP manufacturing of the vaccine for human clinical trials, subject to securing external funding for this program. Shares jumped over 23 percent ahead of the bell.

Lloyds Banking Group (LYG) said Tuesday that it will cut around another 2,100 jobs over the next three years as it reorganizes its group and wholesale operations.
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