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U.S. Stocks: Valeant's Clock Is Running, Google Leaps Forward

By Alex Dumortier, CFA - Mar 9, 2016 at 2:11PM

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Valeant Pharmaceuticals takes another activist investor onboard, and Google parent Alphabet records a historic milestone for its push into artificial intelligence.

Yesterday broke a five-day winning streak for U.S. stocks, but they are in the black once more in early afternoon trading on Wednesday. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI) (DJINDICES: $INDU) are up 0.50% and 0.27%, respectively, at 2:06 p.m. ET. Among notable movers on fundamental news, shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Alphabet are outperforming, up 7.03% and 1.56%, respectively.

Google DeepMind's AlphaGo program earned a historic victory over the world champion. Image source: Luis de Bethencourt, republished under CC BY 2.0.

Valeant: The clock is running
Shares of the troubled pharmaceutical company, which put in a new low last week, are outperforming today after it announced it has added three board members, including a representative of Pershing Square Capital Management, the activist hedge fund led by brash billionaire Bill Ackman.

Stephen Fraidin was one of the top M&A lawyers on Wall Street, having spent more than 50 years practicing law, before joining Pershing Square at the beginning of 2015 as vice chairman.

The collapse in Valeant's stock has splashed egg on Ackman's face -- by one estimate, the fund's unrealized loss has exceeded $2 billion.

The choice of someone with Fraidin's skill set suggests Ackman may push for a partial or full sale of the company. In fact, Bloomberg reports that Ackman raised this very possibility speaking at yesterday's Harbor Investment Conference:

Bausch & Lomb is a very valuable stand-alone business and some day -- if Valeant chose to -- they could sell a piece of that to pay down their debt...

Either management will restore confidence in the reputation of the company with the public and the investment community or they won't. If they can't then one of two things will happen -- new management will be bought in or the business will be sold.

One thing is certain: With representatives of two activist hedge funds (ValueAct Capital president G. Mason Morfit re-joined at the end October) on its board, Valeant's management will need to embrace a new level of urgency in dealing with the crisis that has engulfed it. Time is running out for CEO J. Michael Pearson, the man behind Valeant's breakneck acquisition strategy to produce a second act.

(This Fool is on record with a prediction that Morfit will resign his seat before the end of the year.)

Go, Google!
Google parent Alphabet has achieved a significant technological (and marketing) milestone on one of its moonshot projects. On Wednesday, AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence (AI) program developed by Google DeepMind took the first game in a series of five games of Go -- a board game of extreme complexity -- against Lee Se-dol, the top player in the world for a decade.

Before the game, Lee Se-dol had declared to Financial Times that "[i]t would be a computer's victory if it wins even one game. I believe human intuition and human sense are too advanced for artificial intelligence to catch up. I doubt how far AlphaGo can mimic such things."

Humbled in defeat, Lee was singing a different tune, saying that he was "in shock" and that he had not anticipated AlphaGo would play "in such a perfect manner."

AlphaGo's symbolic victory suggests Alphabet may have stolen a lead on rivals Apple and Facebook in the burgeoning area of artificial intelligence. Facebook, for example, is developing a system that plays Go, but it is reportedly weaker than commercially available systems. Yesterday's victory is a milestone for computer science, but it's also significant for Alphabet -- AI isn't an incidental area of research for the search giant.

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