The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Merck, Telefonica, BT Group, Vodafone Group and Liberty Global

Jul 18, 2013, 09:30 ET from Zacks Investment Research, Inc.

CHICAGO, July 18, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Merck (NYSE: MRK-Free Report), Telefonica (NYSE: TEF-Free Report), BT Group Plc. (NYSE: BT-Free Report), Vodafone Group Plc. (Nasdaq:VOD-Free Report) and Liberty Global Plc. (Nasdaq:LBTYA-Free Report).


Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Get #1Stock of the Day pick for free.

Here are highlights from Wednesday's Analyst Blog:

Merck Candidate Faces Delay

Merck (NYSE: MRK-Free Report) suffered another pipeline-related setback recently with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cancelling an advisory panel meeting for sugammadex. Merck is looking to get sugammadex approved for the reversal of neuromuscular blockade (NMB) induced by rocuronium or vecuronium.

Merck said that the FDA cancelled the Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee (AADPAC) meeting which was scheduled to be held on Jul 18. The agency said that it needs more time to evaluate the results of a recently completed inspection of a clinical trial site. The site is one of four sites where a hypersensitivity study was conducted as per the FDA's requirements.

Merck is currently in discussions with the FDA regarding the path forward. The delay in sugammadex' approval is disappointing. We note that Merck had failed to gain US approval for sugammadex earlier in 2008. At that time, the FDA had asked for additional data related to hypersensitivity reactions and bleeding events.

Sugammadex, however, is marketed in 40 countries other than the US under the trade name Bridion. Bridion sales were $261 million in 2012, up 29.9%.

The delay in sugammadex's US approval is the second regulatory setback for Merck this month. Earlier this month, Merck had received a complete response letter (CRL) from the agency for its insomnia candidate, suvorexant.

Merck currently carries a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell).

O2, Virgin Media Ink Backhaul Deal

O2, the European subsidiary of Telefonica (NYSE: TEF-Free Report), has signed a long-term backhaul deal with U.K.-based cable provider, Virgin Media Business. The deal will allow O2 customers across the U.K. to enjoy faster network speed.

In a ten-year deal, Virgin Media Business will connect O2's base stations with its fibre network, via an Ethernet-based backhaul service. The high capacity Ethernet service will deliver 1Gbps data speed across cell sites and different parts of O2's network.

Recently, Telefonica paid nearly $830.6 million (£550 million) to secure 4G spectrums in the 800 MHz band and plans to launch 4G mobile service later this year. Other than Telefonica, Everything Everywhere (EE), Hutchison Whampoa,BT Group Plc. (NYSE: BT-Free Report) andVodafone Group Plc. (Nasdaq:VOD-Free Report) have also acquired 4G spectrum in the U.K.

Over the last couple of years, Virgin Media Business, a subsidiary of Liberty Global Plc. (Nasdaq:LBTYA-Free Report), has secured mobile backhaul deals from the four major mobile operators in the U.K. According to the company, the deal signifies the importance of backhaul network for supporting wireless services. Earlier this year, the company signed a $74 million (£49 million) deal with Sky U.K. to enhance its backhaul capacity.

In the last few years, there has been unprecedented adaptation of smartphones and tablets, which in turn has led to increased data demand. Higher proliferation of smartphones and tablets along with increased games and HD-movie downloads are pressurizing networks, resulting in slower network speed.

Last year, O2's rival, EE, launched nationwide 4G service based on its 1800 MHz band and is planning to increase its 4G speed to 150 MB per second. O2 believes that tying up with Virgin Media Business will boost its network speed and ease data congestion, satisfying customers.

With the expansion of 4G services, the demand for data is expected to rise. The partnership with Virgin Media Business will strengthen O2's position against EE. However, an indebted balance sheet of the parent company remains the primary concern for O2, which might force the company to delay the launch of its 4G service.

Currently, Telefonica carries a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell).

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