Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Office Depot, Staples, OfficeMax, American Express and Ebay

Mar 31, 2011, 09:30 ET from Zacks Investment Research, Inc.

CHICAGO, March 31, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Analyst Blog features: Office Depot Inc. (NYSE: ODP), Staples Inc. (Nasdaq: SPLS), OfficeMax Inc. (NYSE: OMX), American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) and Ebay Inc. (NYSE: EBAY).


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Here are highlights from Wednesday's Analyst Blog:

Office Depot to Launch PlayBook

Office Depot Inc. (NYSE: ODP) recently announced the launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet at its retail store locations and its website, commencing from April 19, 2011. The leading supplier of office products and services announced that the buyers can book the PlayBook ahead of the launch through a pre-order beginning March 29, 2011.

Touted as the world's first tablet for office goers, BlackBerry PlayBook helps in easy execution of various diverse tasks simultaneously with HD multimedia and advanced security features. Further, it offers an ultimate enterprise support along with a superior web browsing experience.

The move will better position the company in the developing and immensely competitive environment and facilitate it in providing a refined way to approach its customers.

Earlier, the company announced the launch of its new iPhone and Android mobile applications to conduct business transactions on the internet using a mobile phone.

The application launch was a part of its "Office Depot Anywhere" strategy and will facilitate its clients to crack a deal at their ease from an array of services on mobile and m-commerce-equipped websites. Moreover, the company has also empowered its website for the above purpose to attract consumers, who do not use an iPhone or an Android.

Office Depot repositions itself to remain afloat in a difficult consumer environment. The company is containing costs, closing underperforming stores, reducing exposure to higher dollar-value inventory items, shuttering non-critical distribution facilities and focusing on providing innovative products and services, which in turn, are expected to contribute to margin improvement.

Moreover, Office Depot is reviewing capital-efficient opportunities to expand its reach in Eastern Europe and South America. The company believes that India and China will provide significant growth opportunities going forward. Further, Office Depot announced that it would try to secure individual contracts and manage its costs to alleviate the negative impact of its lost business.

We remain cautious about the sluggish job market. As the economy continues to lag, consumers and small businesses remain frugal about big-ticket spending on items such as business machines and other durable products. Therefore, we believe that the demand for office products is closely tied to the health of the economy.

Currently, we remain Neutral on the stock. Moreover, Office Depot, which competes with Staples Inc. (Nasdaq: SPLS) and OfficeMax Inc. (NYSE: OMX), holds a Zacks #3 Rank, which translates into a short-term Hold recommendation.

AmEx to Serve with "Serve"

American Express Co. (NYSE: AXP) (AmEx) expanded its digital payment services by introducing a new smart service known as Serve, by which customers can transfer funds online and also through their mobile phones. The service will be available to the company's consumers in the US, while an international launch is projected in 2012.

Serve is the outcome of AmEx's technology generated from its $300 million acquisition of Revolution Money last year. The latter is also an arch rival of Ebay Inc. (NYSE: EBAY) PayPal person-to-person (P2P) e-payment services.

Serve accounts facilitate online payments through mobile phones and at the merchants who accept AmEx's cards. The accounts are user-friendly and can be funded from a bank account, debit, credit or charge card, or by receiving money from another Serve account. These accounts can be accessed by Apple's iOS operating system and Android applications, at and also through Facebook, on the mobile phones.

As an introductory offer, AmEx has chosen to waive the fee for putting money into a Serve account using a credit card, for the first six months. Henceforth, a fee of 2.9% of the transaction amount and 30 cents per load will be charged. However, no fee will be charged for adding cash to an account or for debit and direct deposits and other automated-clearing-house transactions.

Meanwhile, the first ATM cash withdrawal each month is free and will cost $2 thereafter. Besides, consumers will not have to pay any fee for making purchases at brick-and-mortar stores using Serve.

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