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Wednesday March 18, 2009 - 15:52:59 GMT
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Forex Blog - US Market Update

Today 11:44am EST/03:44pm GMT

US Market Update

Dow -109 S&P -9 NASDAQ -7.4

- Traders seem to have put aside Feb CPI data while Congress continues working itself into a frenzy over AIG bonuses. Investors are selling off equities and commodities and purchasing some USTs to position themselves ahead of this afternoon's FOMC statement. Indices are seeing some profit taking despite continued aggressive buying in some of the most beaten down Banks. Front-month crude has slide some 4% following weekly DOE inventory builds across all products. April natural gas has made another 6-year low trading below $3.70 while Gold has made a fresh 1-month low briefly trading below $885.

- The Wall Street bonus soap opera has shifted into overdrive as AIG's CEO testifies before the Senate and legislators launch various proposals to heavily tax bonuses (recall that AIG said over the weekend that it would still be doling out $165M in bonuses that the firm was contractually bound to pay). After suggesting that AIG executives should apologize to the nation or commit suicide, Senator Charles Grassley (R) and colleague Senator Max Baucus (D) introduced sweeping legislation yesterday that would impose a 70% tax hike on "excessive executive compensation" - comprising a 35% excise tax on bonuses of workers who are employed by firms who received government funds and a 35% tax on the firm that paid the bonus, applying to all bonuses over $50K. The Congressional leadership has promised to fast-track some kind of legislation to tax the AIG bonuses out of existence, if not all bonuses from Wall Street firms. Note that yesterday afternoon a House committee chairman asked Bank of America to turn over info related to Merrill's $3.6B in bonuses. Note that shares of AIG are up more than 25% today.

- Back in the real world, the Treasury said it would work with AIG to wind down the company in an orderly way. The Fed's financial vehicle, Maiden Lane III, and AIG said yesterday that they would pay $62B to settle derivative transactions with 16 investment banks. BoA CEO Ken Lewis said his bank could pay back its $45B in TARP funds in 2009 or at the start of 2010, accelerating the expected payback from the three or so years Lewis had talked about recently. With quarterly reports expected soon from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the analyst community is positioning their calls on the banks. Sandler O'Neill cut Morgan to a Sell from Hold this morning, while JP Morgan assumed Goldman at Overweight with a $120 price target. Shares of C+10% and BAC+6% are up substantially after pausing for a day or so, while the other major financials are in the red.

- In other equity news, China's Ministry of Commerce rejected Coca-Cola's bid for Huiyuan Juice, noting that the deal will “hurt competition.” Commentators are discussing the protectionist implications of the move. The Wall Street Journal reported that IBM is holding negotiations to buy Sun Microsystems for around $6.5B. That sum would translate into a premium of more than 100% over Sun's closing price on Tuesday of $4.97/shr. No confirmations of the story have been forthcoming. Shares of JAVA+65% are doing well in early trading, while IBM is down 4% or so. MGM is down more than 10% after missing earnings and revenue targets. MGM's CEO was downbeat on the conference call, noting the firm has hired outside advisors and is mulling "all options.” Adobe is up 8% after meeting estimates and guiding in line, noting that business has stabilized and that a modicum of normality may return over the next two quarters.

- In currencies, the greenback saw most of its initial strength from the European morning erode ahead of the FOMC interest rate decision, which comes later this afternoon. EUR/USD easily plowed through reported Far East offers rumored at the 1.3070 area to test 1.3145 for fresh seven-week highs in the pair in the wake of the US CPI data. Some chatter circulated that the overall euro strength might be fix related. Dealers were trying to test the SNB's resolve in the CHF-related pairs. EUR/CHF briefly tested below the 1.5290 level before rebounding above the 1.5330. Swiss names have denied any intervention during the session thus far and dealers are noting the price action appears to be stop-related in EUR/USD thanks to a short squeeze in the cross. USD/CHF remains heavy as the pair tested below 1.1660. Sterling has recovered from its worst levels for the session against its major pairs after the terrible jobs data. The BoE's Blanchflower expressed concern that the UK's situation was getting worse. GBP/USD was nearing the 1.40 area after testing the 1.3850 after the data.


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