- Equities indices are making fresh lows well into negative territory this
morning amidst an atmosphere of heightened volatility, weak economic data and
dismal earnings news, most notably Microsoft's weak quarterly results. The
Commerce Department said December housing starts hit their lowest level since
records began in 1959, with the Dec annualized rate of 550K well below
estimates. The initial and continuing jobless claims readings were also higher
than expected. Front-month crude is down $2.50, below $41 following delayed
weekly inventory data. Treasury yields continue to trend upwards, towards
levels not seen since December, sending the 10-year yield back above 2.6% and
the long bond to 3.25%. Traders are focusing on rhetoric out of Washington
and Beijing that has sparked some
protectionist concerns early in the Obama administration.
- Tech stocks and the tech-heavy Nasdaq are getting crushed in early trading,
with major catalysts including Microsoft's early earnings report and Sony's
lowered long-term forecast. Apple is providing nearly the only silver lining,
rising 6% before the bell after beating Q1 EPS and revenue estimates by wide
margins, although investors should note the firm's Q2 guidance was weaker than
expected. Note that no decline in Mac or iPod shipments was seen in the
quarter. Microsoft surprised markets, moving up its quarterly report to before
the bell this morning instead of after the close today. Shares of MSFT are down
6% or so after the company missed earnings and revenue estimates by a hair,
withdrew its 2009 guidance and said it would cut 5,000 jobs. Sony cut its
2008/09 earnings forecasts to a sizable loss from an expected profit, for what
would be the first annual loss in 14 years. SNE fell __ in early trading.
Investors are dumping EBAY-12% after the company guided lower for next quarter
and reported declining margins. STX-8% missed the consensus EPS view in a big
way and guided Q3 revenues well below par.
- Large financial names gave up yesterday afternoon's gains before the bell and
remained in negative territory in early trading, with the notable exception of
JP Morgan. Overnight Oppenheimer analyst Meredith Whitney wrote in the FT that
it appears US
banks are setting out to make some of the same mistakes of the past 18 months
all over again and are not selling assets fast enough. Citigroup named former
Time Warner Chairman & CEO Richard D. Parsons as chairman of the board
yesterday evening. Perhaps they were attracted by Parsons service as Chairman
and CEO of Dime Bancorp, where he successfully worked with regulators to enable
the bank to continue as a private sector enterprise. Shares of Citi are down
12% or so.
- Mid-cap and regional banks are under pressure after weak earnings reports
from SunTrust and First Third Bank. STI-5% reported a small loss, while
analysts had expected a small profit; revenues were below estimates as well.
STI also cut its dividend. FITB-22% reported a giant loss due to big write downs
on commercial loans and an impressively large negative ROE figure. Shares of
CIT Group are down 5% on a slightly larger than expected loss. Shares of
KeyCorp are bucking the trend, with KEY+5% despite the banks big earnings miss
and goodwill charge.
- Rail names Union Pacific and Burlington Northern are off morning lows after
reporting solid results. Both exceeded consensus EPS estimates, although
recession fears are clearing hitting the stocks. Investors are snapping up
shares of Southwest Airlines, sending LUV up more than 15% after the airline
beat the Street slightly on the top and bottom lines and reported solid
- In currencies, the price action has followed in the wake of official
statements and actions rather than the plethora of economic data. Treasury
Secretary Nominee Geither told Congress that a strong USD is in the national
interest and that President Obama believes China
is a currency manipulator, calling for a realignment of currencies as well. On
the other side of the Pacific, PBoC Adviser Yu commented that China
should sell some of its horde of US Treasuries and purchase EUR and JPY assets.
FX dealers are eagerly awaiting the next currency manipulator report; there are
two such reports a year, and the May/June period is the likely due date for the
next one. EUR/JPY tested below the 114 level before covering. USD/JPY probed
the 88.00 area before rebounding following Geither's strong USD comment.
- The Russian Central Bank halted its mini-devaluation process that has been in
effect since Nov 11. After 21 minor devaluation moves, the Central Bank has
widened the upper limited to the RUB41 from the recent ceiling at RUB37.15. The
bank also said it would not change the upper basket boundary in coming months
and would maintain the managed float system. Dealers noted there was no mention
of a â€śfree-floatâ€ť policy that many had hoped for and remained divided about the
impact of these moves on the USD. Some note that the moves would remove a
source of USD demand from the market. Other dealers believe that it would
remain "business as usual" in terms of RUB depreciation and daily
interventions by the central bank toward the new line in the sand at RUB41.
Whatever the case, dealers seem to agree that 1.3070 remains pivot point on the
daily New York close in EUR/USD.
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