- US equity indices have managed another modest gain this morning looking for
what feels like it would be an unprecedented 3-day winning streak. General
Electric may be AA+ after S&P cut its rating, but the development has
already been priced in, and this morning's heartening February advanced retail
sales number is lifting spirits. The latter data was notably better than
expected, while the ex autos figure was even positive, while the prior figures
were revised higher in a big way. Many traders are using the data as an initial
piece of evidence to provide hope the bottom is near. All eyes remain on Washington
as well as testimony regarding mark to market rules is getting much scrutiny.
Front-month crude is making gains on the overnight doldrums, trading around $45
while natural gas bounced some 15 cents on weekly inventory data albeit from
- Surprising nobody in particular, S&P cut General Electric's credit ratings
from AAA (to AA+) this morning thanks to trouble at GE Capital. After months of
insisting would defend its AAA-rating and would never cut its dividend, CEO
Immelt changed his tune in February, cutting the dividend and conceding that a
ratings downgrade â€śwould not change the way the company was run.â€ť S&P noted
that it believes GE's industrial business is fundamentally strong. GE
reiterated today that it doesn't anticipate any significant operational or
funding impacts from the change - the market seems to agree, sending shares of
GE up 8%.
- Leading banks stocks are strong in early trading, with the exception of Citi,
which remains in negative territory. Keep in mind that JP Morgan's CEO Dimon
reprised Citi CEO Pandit's act yesterday afternoon, saying that the bank has
been solidly profitable in January and February. Also note that shares of Bank
of America are off their mid-morning highs. In other equity news, the
pharmaceutical merger waltz continues, with DNA reaching a final merger deal
with Roche at $95/share for a total deal value of nearly $47B. Meanwhile, CV
Therapeutics signed a deal to sell itself to Gilead Sciences for $20/shr in
cash, for a total of $1.4B. CVTX's board has approved the transaction, in which
the company will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gilead.
In other news, Wal-Mart declined to renew its deal with Aflac for providing
employees with benefit plans, sending AFL down 7%. Shares of AFL are back to
around even after Aflac noted the deal comprised less than 1% of its annual premiums.
- Currency trading has been dominated by the carry-related pairs. Overnight the
focus was on yen repatriation ahead of the end of the Japanese fiscal year,
while the Swiss National Bank's (SNB) interest rate decision quickly overtook Japan
as the main catalyst. The Swiss cut their target rate by 25 bps to 0.25%, as
expected, but the real bomb was the bank's announcement that it would purchase
foreign currencies and bonds to stem the appreciation of the Swiss Franc and
dampen risks from economy and the financial crisis. EUR/CHF immediately surged
from 1.4850 to briefly test the 1.5300 level twenty-two minutes later, for its
biggest intraday move since the launch of the euro in 1999. The SNB was seen
intervening in the currency markets in a historic effort to buying the cross on
dealing platforms, a move that was later officially confirmed by an SNB
spokesperson. Dealers are estimating that at least CHF3B was moved during the
operation, also noting that the move was most likely an effort to support Eastern
Europe carry-related plays and calm banking sector concerns.
Dealers also pointed out that the BoJ should be very attentive to SNB actions,
given that both central banks have expressed a desire to see their currencies
- Eastern and Central European currencies also firmed up in the aftermath of
the Swiss action, with PLN, CZK, HUF and TRY all rebounding from session lows
against the euro. Russian Central Bank Governor Ignatiev said the ruble has
stablized in recent weeks with a tendency toward strength. He reiterated that
bank would do "whatever is necessary" to maintain the RUB41 ceiling
in the basket. JPY retreated from its best levels to move lower against the
major pairs. USD/JPY is back above 98 after testing the upper 95 handle during
the European morning. Also note that ahead of the G20 finance minister meeting
this weekend, ECB's Trichet reiterated his position that he is not in favor of
an EU common bond issue.
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