- The surprisingly positive US advanced retail sales data has failed to aid
equity trade in the early going, as investors fix on the worsening unemployment
numbers and uncertainty over bailout and stimulus plans. Although the 1.0%
increase in retail sales was the biggest rise since November 2007, many are
dismissing the uptick as a dead cat bounce fueled by panic discounting. And
last week's jobless claims data was revised to 631K, making it the highest
reading since October 1982. To top it all off, the large than expected decline
in December Business inventory data suggests more downside for the Q4 GDP
revision set for Feb 27. Treasury markets are marginally higher on the soft
equity action. The Long bond yield is sitting just below 3.5% ahead of this
afternoon's $14B 30-year auction results.
- Equity traders continue to keep a close eye on commodity markets, especially
gold. The April contract tested $950 briefly about a half hour from stocks putting
in their morning lows. In the oil markets traders remain focused on widening
spreads across the curve and between products. March crude has slipped another
3% to dip below $35 while gasoline is up another 2%. The April contract has
traded at more than a $7 premium to the crude contract, and the Dec is roughly
$20 above March.
- A continuing lack of clarity on the administration's plans for cleaning up
toxic assets seems to be forcing down shares of the leading US
banks after they bounced back somewhat yesterday. Citi, Bank of America and JP
Morgan are down 6% while Wells Fargo is down more than 8%. Health insurance
leader Aetna beat earnings and revenue estimates slightly, but investors are
disappointed by the firm's 57% y/y profit decline, sending shares of AET down
more than 4% before recovering mid morning. Fellow insurer Hartford informed
investors it is ineligible for more commercial paper borrowing following
ratings downgrades from Moody's and S&P earlier this month, forcing it to
file a big $3B ASR. Shares of HIG are down nearly 10% in the early going.
- Dow component Coca-Cola came in a bit ahead of earnings estimates while
missing revenue targets; shares of KO+4% are strong in early trading. Hotel
giant Marriott missed top and bottom line missed top- and bottom-line
estimates; it also guided below par for the coming quarter and the full year.
MAR fell 6% before the open but has come off its worst levels mid morning.
Shares of auto components firm BorgWarner started out underwater but are headed
straight up +5% in early trading after the firm beat consensus EPS forecasts
and said it expects positive earnings in 2009. JA Solar is down 10% or so after
cutting its 2009 forecast, dragging solar sector ETF TAN down around 2%.
- Currency trading has been rocked by chatter and rumors of option barriers,
alleged stops and key players placing big orders. USD/JPY hit the 89.90 level,
below which the chatter called for USD sell stops, although this talk was
offset somewhat by bids from Kampo, the Japanese Postal System. The level was
tested before the USD rose back to 90.45. GBP/USD centered on rumors of large
GBP sell-stops building below the 1.4120 level. The session low was 1.4137,
with the pair bouncing a big figure to trade around 1.4230 in the New
York session. EUR/USD was all about the 1.27 level.
Dealer chatter insisted that 1.2700 was the lower part of a 1.27/ 1.37 Do No
Touch (DNT) option barrier with a â‚¬10M payout. The option is rumored to expire
at the New York cut on Friday.
Note that the euro has been on the defensive following the Euro Zone Industrial
data, which registered its largest annual decline on record.
- Eastern European currencies continued to limp along. EUR/CZK tested its
highest level in 18 months, while the ruble managed to keep under the 41
ceiling against its basket. Dealer chatter circulated that the Russian Central
Bank sent commercial banks a letter warning against misusing government bailout
cash to bet against the ruble. Meanwhile the Russia's
Central Bank's reserves declined by almost $5B in the week.
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