- 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
- 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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