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Starbucks Set Up to Roast the Competition

It’s never really a bad time to go back and look at some stocks we’ve discussed and analyzed in previous letters. Times and markets change and adjust, and updates on these four are worth a few minutes to digest.

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) announced a partnership with German-based Krueger to compete with manufacturers of single-cup coffee makers with its new Verismo system, promising to deliver Starbucks-quality coffee and espresso with the announced system’s patent-pending “high pressure extraction capability.”

The current leader in single-cup coffee makers is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR) with its Keurig products. Green Mountain stock dropped 15% the day after the announcement, while Starbucks rose 6%. I think Starbucks will make for stiff competition — its brand name is much stronger than Green Mountain’s.

Agrium (NYSE:AGU) is one of the companies considered likely to take over Viterra’s (PINK:VTRAF) 261 retail stores in western Canada. Cargill and Swiss Glencore also might be bidding. The sale price has been pegged around $5.5 billion, and the Canadian federal government must review a foreign takeover to determine if there’s a ‘net benefit’ to the country.

When Agrium completed its acquisition of AWB in 2010, it sold grain-handling to Cargill and kept the retail arm, leading to speculation that the Viterra takeover would proceed similarly. I think this would help Agrium’s business. Neither Cargill nor Glencore are Canadian, so that gives Agrium an edge.

Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) was voted the most sought-after employer among Chinese undergraduates at Peking and Tsinghua Universities in a poll by a leading Chinese job search site. Ba Rang, human research executive for, noted the Silicon Valley-like atmosphere of Baidu and its corporate culture as being prime selling points for aspiring graduates. 

Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) is being sued for $375 million by Asian American Entertainment, a former partner of LVS under the control of Taiwanese businessman Shi Sheng Hao.

According to the suit, LVS illegally broke a contract with Asian American Entertainment in order to partner with Galaxy Entertainment of Hong Kong in what would become the world’s biggest casino market. Asian American filed a similar suit in Nevada a few years ago, but it was dismissed.

In addition, Las Vegas Sands is being investigated by the SEC and the Justice Department to determine its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act following allegations by the company’s former Macau head that he had been asked to use “improper leverage” against senior government officials of Macau.

I don’t think the Asian American lawsuit or the bribery investigation will have an effect on the stock. 

Spreadtrum Communications (NASDAQ:SPRD) announced a partnership with Indian mobile handset manufacturer Micromax Informatics Limited to increase the market for innovative, value for money handset products in India and other emerging markets.

Spreadtrum will be investing $10 million in Micromax and become one of the preferred suppliers of mobile chip sets to the handset manufacturer. However, the stock has badly lagged the broad market and now has a credibility issue.

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