- Deepening anxiety over the leading US
banks is putting heavy pressure on US equity indices this morning. Investors
are dumping Bank of America, Citigroup and other financial names as analysts continue
to warn that banks face another round of capital raising and the debate over
the second tranche of TARP funding heats up. The DJIA, Nasdaq and S&P500
plunged more than 2% from the open before retracing a bit after 10:30amEST. The
VIX volatility index is reflecting this fresh wave of fear, hitting fresh
one-month highs above 54. Trading in government bond markets has been fairly
subdued with yields rising both here and across the pond on Trichet's initial
comments before retracing. The energy complex remains under pressure with Feb
crude approaching $35, down another 5%. Front month natural gas remains at
multi-year lows testing $4.75 despite the harsh winter weather in the
- Shares of Bank of America and Citigroup are melting down in early trading,
with Citi down more than 15% and BAC dropping nearly 24%. The other day Citi
moved its earnings release up to Jan 16 with no explanation; some commentators
have noted that it seems to be no accident the troubled bank will report ahead
of the upcoming Congressional debate over authorizing the second tranche of
TARP funding. A Bank of America Analyst said Citi's Q4 EPS loss would be $1.19
versus $0.47 prior, noting that he expects big mark-to-market losses in Citi's
illiquid asset portfolio. Overnight the WSJ's "Heard on the Street"
wrote that the government â€śneeds a solutionâ€ť for Citi. Fears about Bank of
America really came to a boil after the bank said it was negotiating with the
US Treasury to get more aid to help it digest Merrill Lynch's big losses,
noting that it might not be able to complete its purchase of Merrill without
- JP Morgan reported surprisingly strong Q4 results, noting a $0.07 profit
against expectations for earnings at breakeven. Revenue came in below the
consensus view. The bank significantly hiked its tier-1 capital ratio and
provisions for loan losses in the quarter and slashed mortgages outstanding by
nearly $4B. On the conference call, executives noted that the expected losses
from the WaMu acquisition remain well within the expected range and noted that
the prime brokerage business is doing â€śvery well.â€ť Shares of JPM are doing
well, all things considered, remaining around breakeven in mid morning trade.
- In other equity news, Autodesk cut its Q4 earnings and revenue guidance and
said it would cut 10% of its workforce. Marshall & Ilsley shocked investors
with a giant quarterly loss and slashed its dividend to a cent from $0.32
prior. Shares of MI are down 24% and headed lower mid morning, while ADSK is
down more than 10%. Briggs & Stratton bucked the trend earlier after it
beat EPS estimates and reaffirmed its 2009 forecast, with shares of BGG rising
8% before the bell. Investors have soured on the name, with BGG-5% mid morning.
Apple is down 5% after yet another round of Steve Jobs health drama, with the
company announcing last night that Jobs would take a leave of absence until
June. COO Tim Cook will take over until Jobs returns.
- In currencies the focus has been on the ECB, which lowered its key rate by
50bps to 2.00% as expected; the ECB has now lowered rates by 225bps since
October 5th. The press conference was one of the more memorable on record,
acting as catalyst for the euro price action this morning. The EUR/USD tested a
key support level of 1.3070 ahead of the conference. ECB President Trichet
began his remarks by noting that lower inflationary pressures and a weaker
economic outlook were behind the 50bps cut while also noting that he saw
inflationary risks as balanced. Then Trichet added that he expects inflation to
climb higher in the second half of 2009 with the inflation rate fluctuating
sharply. This comment spurred a bout of euro-related short covering and the
EUR/USD tested above the 1.3230 level. The euro strengthened further after Trichet
seemed to indicate the ECB would be on hold in February and ready for an
important meeting in March when new staff projections became available. As the
press conference moved to Q&A, Trichet said 2% was not a floor but merely
an "historically low rate." He again stressed that the March staff projections on economic growth would
be sharply lower and labeled 2010 the "year of recovery." Note also
that Trichet reiterated several times that it was not the intention of the
Governing Council to find itself in a liquidity trap.
- In other currency news, the IMF commented that the recession in the EU would
most likely worsen and called today's ECB rate cut â€śappropriate.â€ť The German
government forecasted 2009 GDP would fall by 2.25%. The Russian Central Bank spent
around $8B in the session to defend its currency despite the 4th mini
devaluation in the last five days.
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