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Tuesday March 17, 2009 - 15:48:23 GMT
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Forex Blog - US Market Update

Today 11:26am EST/03:26pm GMT

US Market Update

DOW +3 S&P +3.5 NASDAQ +16

- US equity indices are holding their ground after yesterday's late session decline. An uptick seen in the Feb building permits and housing starts data has provided some hope housing could be nearing a bottom. Following three consecutive months of record low readings, housing starts handily beat analysts' estimates at 583K v 450Ke. Some commentators saw the big gains in multi-unit starts versus an almost flat single-unit starts as evidence that builders are positioning around growth in rentals units, while others cautioned that builders are simply desperate, given the record level of new home supply already waiting for buyers. Others claim the data shows some kind of bottom is approaching in housing. The XHB is up 4% or so in the early going. Front-month crude has swung back to strength, popping above $48 after OPEC officials suggest they would reach 95% compliance of the already announced output cuts by the May meeting.

- The week of gains in shares of the leading US banks seems to have moderated this morning as investors pause to reassess. The analyst community has passed some conflicting judgments on the rally: Keefe Bruyette cut Goldman to Market Perform and BofA/Merrill Lynch cut Morgan Stanley to sell, while Oppenheimer initiated the two names at outperform. Analysts at Oppenheimer see the recovery in credit spreads as benefiting major integrated investment banks. Some commentators seem to be saying that the rally was at based on the argument that it can't get any worse. Investor Jim Rogers weighed in, saying that the US is repeating mistakes made by Japan in bailing out banks and warning that it takes several years for a bubble to deflate. On CNBC Meredith Whitney said things at the banks are as bad as ever, reiterated that banks will cut consumer credit lines by around $2.7T and said mark to market doesn't really matter at this point. Addressing Citi's rally-sparking comments about profitability in Q1, Whitney said Citi CEO Pandit's comments will come back to haunt the bank. Also note that Fed delayed new bank capital requirements this morning for two years, until Mar 31st, 2011 , to give financial firms - which need to boost overall capital levels during this challenging period in financial markets - more flexibility to meet federal capital requirements.

- Steel maker Nucor told investors to prepare for a big Q1 loss, guiding -$0.65 to -$0.55 versus a consensus view of $0.43. Nucor cited the unprecedented speed and magnitude of global economic decline, warning that customer demand has continued to weaken with resulting downward pressure on orders, production rates and steel pricing in all product lines. Shares of NUE-12% have been hit hard on the news, with shares of other major steel companies down 6-8% in sympathy.

- Pfizer is in the process of launching what the Wall Street Journal is calling the biggest USD corporate bond issue ever, to finance its acquisition of Wyeth. There had been speculation that the bond issue would be around $20B, although this morning Pfizer priced around $13B in notes of various maturities. Note that the WSJ wrote that drug makers have ready access to funding today but in a few years time will "fall off a patent cliff" and are scrambling to diversify via big acquisitions. The Journal warned that these types of transactions have a spotty record.

- In currencies, the USD and JPY price action seems to be inversely correlated to moves in equity markets. The USD has remained in its recent 24-hour range of 1.2930 to 1.3030 as market sentiment shifted between risk aversion and risk appetite throughout the European and NY sessions. Dealers are noting that the increase in US New Housing Starts data is a mixed bag for the dollar as single-unit starts climbed by 1.1% but multi-unit starts increased by over 80%. Sterling was under some pressure during the New York morning, with GBP/USD back below the 1.40 level and GBP/JPY probing minor support at 138.00 ahead of BoE Governor King's speech after the New York equity close on Tuesday. An IMF official commented that the fund's new economic forecast would predict a global contraction of 0.6% in 2009, compared to a +0.5% prior view. This fulfills earlier warnings from the IMF.


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