Today in the Fortune 500: Quake in Japan could mean price increases for some manufacturers, Microsoft to make a more private browser and Pfizer may undo its mega-mergers

March 15, 2011, 5:16 PM UTC
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The Fortune 500 comes out just once a year, but the companies on it make headlines every day. Here then are today’s highlights of news and happenings coming from the biggest names in business.

By Shelley DuBois, reporter

DISASTER IN JAPAN One of the less tragic effects of the earthquake and tidal wave that hit the Japanese coast is that they damaged factories for major manufacturers, which will have to increase the costs of their products. Toshiba, which supplies parts for Apple’s (AAPL) iPad, has already closed several factories, and auto-maker GM (GM) is still assessing the damage to plants in its production line. [New York Times]

THE FREEDOM TO BROWSE, un-tracked is coming soon to a Microsoft (MSFT) browser near you. Microsoft announced it would include a do-not-track tool in the next version of its Microsoft Explorer 9 browser, which will allow people to keep protect their internet activity from being monitored. Mozilla will also include a similar tool in the next version of its browser. Both companies are responding pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, which said three months ago that it could start cracking down on web-tracking. [Wall Street Journal]

DISMANTLING MERGERS may be the survival strategy at Pfizer (PFE). The company could find itself strapped for cash as it faces the impending patent cliff for Pfizer’s blockbuster drug Lipitor and others, and needing to sell pieces of its big pharma empire. According to one analyst, Pfizer could stand to shed five of its nine business units: animal health, consumer health, nutritionals, Capsugel, and established products. [Wall Street Journal]

IN OTHER PHARMA EMPIRE NEWS Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is selling its animal health unit to pharma company Eli Lilly for an undisclosed amount. The purchase will add to Lilly’s animal health business Elanco, which is the fourth biggest in the world, and grew in sales by 15% to $1.4 billion last year. [Reuters]

COMPANIES TRY NOT TO GET BURNED in the coming election year via political donations that could alienate shoppers. Both Best Buy (BBY) and Target (TGT) are forming committees to review potential political donations, and hopefully sidestep some of the backlash that happened as a result of donations made during 2010 elections. [ABC News]

A BUYING DROUGHT at IBM (IBM), which hasn’t made a new acquisition since October, which is the longest deal drought for the company in about eight years. Financially, the company is in a good position to buy–IBM is sitting on around $11 billion in cash. [Bloomberg Businessweek]