Stocks in the News: NVS, ACL, CHK, TOT, TWC

The following is a round-up of news likely to affect stock prices today:

(NVS) has raised its stake in eye-care company Alcon (ACL) to 77% by buying Nestlé's majority stake for $28.1 billion, the Swiss drug giant said Monday, and has set its sights on acquiring the rest. Novartis acquired an initial stake for $10.4 billion last year, and is offering remaining shareholders as much as $11.3 billion in its own stock for the remaining 23% of Alcon, also based in Switzerland. The deal is subject to customary approvals including a vote by Alcon's board and review by regulators.

(TOT) has struck a $2.25 billion deal with natural-gas company Chesapeake Energy (CHK) to enter the U.S. shale-gas market, the companies announced Monday. The French energy concern will pay Chesapeake $800 million in cash and another $1.45 billion to fund 60% of the Oklahoma City company's drilling costs. Shale gas is extracted from rock formations using pressurized water and chemicals, and is becoming an increasingly popular way for companies to drill for gas. The deal involves exploration in the so-called Barnett Shale, situated in north-central Texas.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Time Warner Cable (TWC) and News Corp. (NWS) ended a disagreement Friday that had threatened to end Time Warner's delivery of Fox networks such as Fox, Fox News, and other channels. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Fox had sought $1 for each cable subscriber from Time Warner to help pay for programming costs. Time Warner sought to pay a fraction of that, in line with amounts paid by other cable companies. Time Warner has also reached a temporary deal in a similar dispute with Scripps Network Interactive (SNI) over its carriage of the Food Network; Competitor Cablevision Systems (CVC) said it has been unable to reach a deal with Scripps, and has dropped both the Food Network and its HGTV channel.

The science-fiction epic Avatar enjoyed another stellar weekend at the box office, raking in $68.3 million domestically and $133 million overseas to bring total receipts to over $1 billion, only the fifth movie to ever do so. No. 1 for the third consecutive weekend, the 20th Century Fox release has taken in $352.1 million in the U.S. in less than three weeks. Titanic, released in 1997 and also directed by James Cameron, still holds the title of top-grossing movie with sales of $1.8 billion worldwide.

General Motors reported Monday that sales in China rose 67% to a record 1.8 million vehicles as Chinese consumers responded enthusiastically to tax cuts and incentives designed to boost the industry. With slack demand for cars and trucks worldwide, Detroit-based GM and other car makers are eying China's growing market to drive up profits. Sales in China surpassed those in the U.S. for all but two of the first 11 months of 2009. December sales figures have yet to be released.
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