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Buffett buy boosts Apple shares; US tax reform still making waves

During a week marked by continued stock market volatility, several major technology, advertising and communications companies saw their stock prices further fueled by earnings reports, tax reform benefits and other happenings.

In the advertising space, shares in Interpublic Group of Cos. Inc. and Omnicom Group Inc. saw activity after the companies reported their most-recent-quarter earnings. Interpublic's shares jumped Feb. 14 after the company announced it had benefited during its fourth quarter 2017 from the net impact of U.S. tax reform by $36 million, or 9 cents per share, and that its board had approved a $300 million stock buyback program.

After accounting for a normalized effect tax rate of 36.1% and a normalized cash tax rate of 29% on pretax income, Interpublic executives said on a Feb. 14 earnings call that U.S. tax reform will result in a normalized consolidated effective tax rate for the full year of 28% and a normalized cash tax rate of 24%. Interpublic also scored a revenue advance during the quarter, driven by account wins and increased client spending, that reversed a top-line retreat in its third quarter.

Interpublic shares ended the week at $25.33 on Feb. 16, up about 16.5% from their Feb. 9 closing price.

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Omnicom's shares saw movement Feb. 15 after the company said it had sustained a worldwide revenue decrease of 1.5% during its fourth quarter 2017, as results in North America declined behind reductions in client project spending, particularly in the U.S. Company President and CEO John Wren said on a Feb. 15 earnings call that U.S. spending will be stimulated by the recent changes to U.S. tax laws, resulting in consumers finding "more in their paychecks, while tax cuts fuel other activities."

Omnicom's stock closed at $78.72 on Feb. 16, up about 2.3% from its Feb. 9 closing price.

In the broadcast space, Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. took center stage after it was announced that the Federal Communications Commission inspector general had agreed to investigate whether the commission had shown preferential treatment toward the company, according to a congressman.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., confirmed Feb. 15 that Inspector General David Hunt has accepted a request to investigate whether Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his aides improperly pushed for rule changes to benefit Sinclair's proposed $6.6 billion combination with Tribune Media Co. The investigation, according to Pallone, will also look at whether Pai and his staff improperly coordinated with Sinclair on those rule changes.

An FCC spokesperson denied any allegations of wrongdoing, calling them "absurd," and pointed to the $13.4 million fine the commission proposed against Sinclair in December 2017 for violating the commission's sponsorship identification rules. The penalty is the largest fine the commission has ever sought for a violation of its sponsorship identification rules, and it came in response to allegations that Sinclair aired sponsored programming from the Huntsman Cancer Institute without disclosing that the Huntsman Cancer Foundation paid for the content. Sinclair's shares ended at $36.30 on Feb. 16, up about 4% from their Feb. 9 closing price.

CenturyLink Inc.'s shares got a significant boost Feb. 14 after the company reported its latest-quarter earnings results for the first time since closing its acquisition of Level 3 at the end of 2017.

Speaking during a Feb. 14 earnings conference call, CenturyLink CEO Glen Post III and company President Jeff Storey said that 2018 will be a year focused on integration, cost cuts and an improved customer experience. The executives stressed that these goals — reduced costs and improved experience — are sometimes seen as mutually exclusive, but they are not. CenturyLink's shares closed at $18.93 on Feb. 16, up 18.5% from its Feb. 9 closing price.

In the technology sphere, Cisco Systems Inc.'s shares rose after the company Feb. 14 delivered better-than-expected earnings for its most recent quarter, despite posting a net loss due to U.S. tax reform. The company Feb. 14 reported organic revenue growth of about 3% for its fiscal second quarter, ending a two-year streak of declines. A one-time $11.1 billion charge related to U.S. tax law changes weighed on its bottom line, however, leading to a net loss on a GAAP basis.

Cisco said on a Feb. 14 earnings call that it plans to repatriate $67 billion of its overseas cash to the U.S. during its fiscal third quarter. The company's board of directors also approved a $25 billion increase in share buybacks. Cisco's shares ended trading at $44.33 on Feb. 16, up roughly 12% from their Feb. 9 closing price.

Apple Inc.'s shares saw notable gains Feb. 14 after business magnate Warren Buffett increased his company's stake in the technology giant. Buffett boosted Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s stake in Apple by 31,241,180 shares in the fourth quarter of 2017, ending the period with 165,333,962 Apple shares, worth about $27.98 billion as of Dec. 31, 2017. Apple's stock closed at $172.43 on Feb. 16, up about 10% from its Feb. 9 closing price.