- US equity trading got off to an inauspicious start by focusing on weakness in
Europe following a slew of disappointing GDP readings. But a preliminary May
University of Michigan Confidence reading picked things up mid morning. The Michigan
reading came in higher than expected, and Fed Gov Stern appeared just after the
data to say that the economy is near a bottom. Note that this morning's April
CPI was flat on a m/m basis, although the y/y figure fell deeper into negative
territory on the heels of March's watershed negative y/y reading. But overall
the sentiment following the data seems to be positive, as hopes that a small
amount of inflation is a good sign for growth recovery while the highest empire
manufacturing reading since Oct 2007 could be yet another green shoot. Trading
definitely feels a bit tentative heading towards equity options expiration this
- Treasury prices are lower giving back some of the risk aversion gains seen
early in the week. The benchmark 10-year yield has drifted back towards 3.15%,
but is still close to 25 basis points below where it entered the week.
Citigroup is just the latest major financial institution looking to flex some
healthiness in front of the US
government following reports of a sale of 10-year non FDIC backed debt.
Front-month gold is back above $930, at levels not seen since late March.
- With only two weeks to go to the government's deadline for a restructuring
plan, GM looks to be close to a key deal with the UAW to slash labor costs. The
Wall Street Journal is reporting that a potential deal with the union would cut
hourly labor costs by more than $1B/year and reduce its $20B pledge to the UAW
to cover health-care obligations in exchange for a 39% equity stake in the
reorganized company. Reportedly the plan is still in flux, but the two parties
could finalize terms as early as next week. In addition, the Treasury hopes to
short-circuit protests from creditors by lining up deals before GM enters
bankruptcy proceedings; the company is expected to begin negotiating with
secured lenders soon to restructure about $6B in debt. Also note that
AutoNation's CEO told CNBC this morning that Chrysler's bankruptcy process is
on track to finish up quickly.
- The Treasury has extended TARP funding to the insurance industry at long
last. The industry had been left out of the program at first, but last night
the Treasury confirmed that four names, including Hartford,
Prudential, Lincoln National and Principal Financial have been granted access
to TARP. So far Lincoln is the only
insurer to have confirmed its participation in the program, noting that it has
be granted $2.5B in funding. Overnight Keefe Bruyette raised Harford and
Lincoln to Outperform. All four names opened higher this morning but have
traded off in the early going, with HIG+8%, LNC+6%, PFG+2% and PRU-2%
- Another crop of retailers reported quarterly results this morning. JC Penny
and Nordstrom offered solid results meeting or exceeding analysts earnings and
revenue expectations. JCP's guidance for the coming quarter and the full year
remained weak, however, well below estimates, while JWN raised its 2009
earnings guidance range. JCP noted that consumer spending and mall traffic
would remain weak for the rest of 2009. Apparel laggard Abercrombie & Fitch
also reported this morning, offering twice the quarterly loss expected. On the
conference call, ANF's CEO called 2009 a "transitional year," and
finally admitted that the company would undertake price cuts, which they have
resisted throughout the crisis. Shares of JWN are up 6% in early trading, while
JCP and ANF are both in negative territory mid morning.
- In currency trading, the USD and JPY have retreated from their best levels
after the light risk aversion resulting from European data wore off. The
better-than-expected US Empire Manufacturing data and Fed Gov Stern's comment
that patches of green shoots were appearing everywhere helped tamp down risk
aversion. Oil and metal commodities have managed to hold steady to positive
during the NY morning while European and US equities markets climbed back from
earlier lows. EUR/USD is hovering around the 1.36 level while USD/JPY is
drifting back above its 100-day moving average of 95.15.
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