- Investors are looking beyond today's GDP reading, with all three leading US equity indices opening higher for the first time this week and pushing out to two-week highs in early trading. Risk appetite seems to be building ahead of this afternoon's FOMC decision as well. The advance Q1 GDP reading was worse than expected, at -6.1% versus -4.7%, though notably it is only the first and least complete of three GDP readings for Q1. Investors are apparently taking the good news where they can find it, focusing on data from the reported showing 2.2% growth in customer spending and a 3.4% decline in inventories. Note that front-month NYMEX remains around $50.80, well above yesterday's lows.
- Executives from Bank of America and Morgan Stanley are facing off with investors at annual general meetings this morning. Both Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack and BoA CEO John Lewis have been under fire from various quarters for their performance during the crisis; the media has widely speculated that shareholders will try to strip Lewis of his chairmanship or even his place as CEO. So far this morning, Lewis has defended the Merrill Lynch and Countrywide acquisitions, reiterating that they were not missteps. At Morgan Stanley, CEO Mack said the firm had reduced leverage to 11.4x from 32.6x and reduced balance sheet by close to $350B. Note that Wells Fargo's AGM was yesterday evening, during which shareholders rejected proposal in to require an independent chairman. WFC's CEO insisted the firm is not a "zombie bank." In other finance sector news, analysts at Fox-Pitt Kelton raised US banking sector to neutral from sell, citing improving valuations, better loan loss reserves and fewer non-performing assets. And Moody's reported better-than-expected earnings and revenue, and reaffirmed its 2009 earnings guidance.
- Health insurance giant Aetna and pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health reported solid quarterly results this morning. Both firms met earnings estimates and reaffirmed their 2009 forecasts, while Aetna beat revenue targets. But Medco warned that rising job cuts among its employer customers is still a concern, while Aetna said layoffs and increased Cobra membership were a threat. Shares of MHS are down 4%, while AET was making fresh lows around -9%. Pfizer takeover target Wyeth had a good quarter, with Q1 earnings better than expected and revenue just a hair below targets. Wyeth noted that integration with Pfizer is on track.
- Consumer-facing names Burger King and tobacco firm Reynolds American offered quarterly results in line with expectations. However BKC missed estimates in its guidance for next quarter and trimmed its full-year forecast a bit, noting that worldwide sales rapidly decelerated in the month of March. Reynolds discussed the impact of new excise taxes, noting the big increases that took effect April 1 disrupted shipments in the quarter, leading to significant reductions in wholesale and retail inventories and higher-than-usual industry volume declines. BKC is up 4% mid morning, while RAI is up 2%.
- The recession is taking its toll on big media, as seen in results from IAC/Interactive and the Time Warner companies. IACI swung to a loss in Q1 after Q4's solidly profitable results. The firm's media and advertising revenue fell 22% y/y, in line with the broader industry. Time Warner was firmly ahead of the Street on the bottom line in Q1, despite big declines at AOL and overall weakness in the sector, noting that better results at its cable properties offset other losses. Time Warner Cable missed on earnings but met revenue targets, and affirmed it would earn $3.00/shr this year, firmly in line with expectations. The company is still evaluating its options for AOL, noting it will most likely spin off parts of the unit over time.
- In currency trading, the price action seen in the European session extended into the New York morning. One dealer observed that the yield on the US 10-year bond and GDP price index are morphing together at 3%. The EUR/USD continues to be attracted toward its key resistance level of 1.33. For the time being the market is discounting the cautious growth comments out of the Euro-Zone. ECB's Weber reiterated the view that Q1 GDP for the region was likely to be worse than the -1.5% reading seen back in Q4. He did note that the pace of economic deterioration was likely to slow. Germany officially cut its GDP estimate for 2009 and now sees growth contracting by 6% from it prior forecast of a 2.25% contraction. Germany also commented that it saw its economy stabilizing later this year. UK's Chancellor Darling said the UK economy seen growing by end of year and complemented with modest growth in 2010. Commodity currencies are maintaining a firm tone, with USD/CAD moving back towards the 1.20 handle and AUD/USD back above the 0.72 cent level.
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