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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Nucor Corporation, Encana, Commercial Metals Co., United States Corp. and Merck

CHICAGO, Nov. 12, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com 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 Nucor Corporation (NUE), Encana (ECA), Commercial Metals Co. (CMC), United States Corp (X) and Merck (MRK).

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20101027/ZIRLOGO)

Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Four daily picks are offered free.

Here are highlights from Monday's Analyst Blog:

Nucor Inks Agreement with EnCana

Steel maker Nucor Corporation (NUE) entered into a deal with Canada's largest natural gas producer Encana (ECA) to develop onshore natural gas drilling program in the continental U.S. Nucor believes that the drilling program will provide a reliable, low-cost supply of fuel for more than 20 years.

Per the agreement, Nucor will share its part of costs and will also shell out an additional amount for the drilling. The agreement also has an option where either of the companies may suspend drilling if the price of natural gas falls below a predetermined threshold. Encana will provide expertise for drilling and operating the wells.

The agreement will establish a reliable gas supply for the direct reduced iron facility, which is currently under construction in Convent, Louisiana where iron ore is turned into a concentrate. The facility is expected to come online in mid 2013 and is expected to increase Nucor's usage of natural gas. The recent deal is an extension of the existing agreement between Nucor and Encana that was signed in 2010.

As per Nucor, the deal can provide enough natural gas to offset the fuel that is used at its U.S. mills and two gas-intensive direct reduced iron facilities. Nucor believes that the deal will improve its competitive position and will be beneficial for both the companies.

Last month, Nucor released its third quarter 2012 results. The company reported adjusted (excluding special items) earnings of 45 cents per share in the third quarter of 2012, ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 42 cents. The adjusted earnings exclude cost associated with Skyline Steel buyout and loss on divestiture of the assets of Nucor Wire Products Pennsylvania, Inc.

Profit (as reported) came in at $110.3 million or 35 cents a share, down 39% from $181.5 million or 57 cents per share reported a year ago. The bottom line was hurt by lower operating profits at the company's steel mills, especially in sheet and plate.

Revenues slid 8.6% year over year to $4,801 million, missing the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $4,856 million. An 8% fall in average sales price weighed on Nucor's revenues in the quarter. Total tons shipped to outside customers dipped 0.3% year over year to 5.8 million tons in the reported quarter and total mill shipments decreased 1.7% to 5.0 million tons.

The company, which competes with Commercial Metals Co. (CMC) and United States Steel Corp. (X), maintains a Zacks #3 Rank, which translates into a short-term (1 to 3 months) Hold rating. We currently have a long-term Neutral recommendation on the shares of Nucor.

FDA Accepts Merck Sleep Drug

Merck (MRK) recently announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted its new drug application (NDA) for its insomnia candidate, suvorexant. The agency granted standard review which means a response should be out in the second half of 2013.

Merck said that the FDA's Controlled Substance Staff will review the NDA. Once it is approved, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will assess and assign the schedule for the drug before it is launched.

Suvorexant belongs to a new class of medicines called orexin receptor antagonists which target and block orexins.

Earlier this year, Merck had presented encouraging data on suvorexant from two pivotal phase III efficacy trials. Suvorexant was shown to significantly lower the time it took for patients to fall asleep. Moreover, patients in the suvorexant arm stayed asleep longer as early as the first night as well as at the three-month time point.

Approval would make suvorexant the first orexin receptor antagonist to reach the market. However, we note that the insomnia market is highly competitive and genericized.

Merck has several more regulatory filings scheduled for the next few quarters. The company plans to seek US and EU approval for its osteoporosis candidate, odanacatib, in the first half of 2013 and in Japan in the second half of 2013.

The resubmission of the sugammadex (reversal of certain muscle relaxants used during surgery) filing in the US is also slated to take place by year end.

Other candidates for which Merck intends to seek regulatory approval in the coming months include vintafolide (oncology), Tredaptive (cholesterol management) and V503 (a vaccine that expands protection against certain HPV-associated cancers by including additional HPV types).

Today, Zacks is promoting its ''Buy'' stock recommendations. Four daily picks are offered free.

About Zacks Equity Research

Zacks Equity Research provides the best of quantitative and qualitative analysis to help investors know what stocks to buy and which to sell for the long-term.

Continuous coverage is provided for a universe of 1,150 publicly traded stocks. Our analysts are organized by industry which gives them keen insights to developments that affect company profits and stock performance. Recommendations and target prices are six-month time horizons.

Zacks "Profit from the Pros" e-mail newsletter provides highlights of the latest analysis from Zacks Equity Research. Subscribe to this free newsletter today.

About Zacks

Zacks.com is a property of Zacks Investment Research, Inc., which was formed in 1978. The later formation of the Zacks Rank, a proprietary stock picking system; continues to outperform the market by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. The best way to unlock the profitable stock recommendations and market insights of Zacks Investment Research is through our free daily email newsletter; Profit from the Pros.  In short, it's your steady flow of Profitable ideas GUARANTEED to be worth your time! Register for your free subscription to Profit from the Pros.

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Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Inherent in any investment is the potential for loss. This material is being provided for informational purposes only and nothing herein constitutes investment, legal, accounting or tax advice, or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold a security. No recommendation or advice is being given as to whether any investment is suitable for a particular investor. It should not be assumed that any investments in securities, companies, sectors or markets identified and described were or will be profitable. All information is current as of the date of herein and is subject to change without notice. Any views or opinions expressed may not reflect those of the firm as a whole. Zacks Investment Research does not engage in investment banking, brokerage, market making or asset management activities of any securities. Visit http://www.zacks.com/performance for information about the performance numbers displayed in this press release.

SOURCE Zacks Investment Research, Inc.

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