Dow +25 Nasdaq flat S&P 500 +8 - Stocks are edging higher this morning as investors look to sustain the gains from this week's rally. The Commerce Department trade balance data is helping somewhat, as the trade deficit fell 3.5% or so (mostly due to falling oil demand and reduced deficit with the Euro region). Exports were up a tick. Front-month NYMEX crude tested yesterday's highs just above $72 in early trading, before retreating to the $71 handle. Gold is catching its breath after more than a week of steady gains, trading just above $1,050.
- Today's NY Times reports on emerging divisions within the FOMC. Despite the fact all members agree on the need to keep rates at zero for an extended period of time, they remain divided on the best pace for tightening rates. According to the report, FOMC members Hoening, Fisher, Lacker, Plosser and Warsh are all pushing for rapid hikes once the recovery is assured, while the likes of Dudley and Tarullo are decidedly more cautious. For his part, Fed Chairman Bernanke hit the airwaves late on Thursday with a speech almost exclusively devoted to exit strategies, but gave no indication of his bias.
- Shares of Citigroup have lagged the run up among the financials this week, as management issues at the troubled bank have been under the magnifying glass. Midweek there were reports that a performance review of CEO Pandit and his management team by an outside consultant, requested by US regulators, had turned out "mostly positive." Yesterday the FDIC had questioned the generally positive review, doubting the rigor of the report. In other news, Citi sold its contentious Phibro oil and gas trading unit to Occidental Petroleum, allaying scrutiny over its pay practices to the famously profitable unit.
- Chevron provided investors with a sneak peak of its Q3 in a business update yesterday. The firm said its Q3 earnings expected to be higher on a sequential basis, with upstream earnings projected to rise significantly on higher oil prices and $400M in gains and tax items. Downstream results are expected to be relatively flat. Shares of CVX are up 1.5% in early trading, while competing integrated oil names XOM and VLO are in the red. In other news, Indian outsourcing giant Infosys reported Q2 results a bit ahead of expectations and raised its FY10 guidance, citing the weaker dollar. Executives noted that business climate has improved and pricing seems to have stabilized. The US ADRs of Infosys are down as much as 4% this morning. In other movers, smallcap Sunrise Senior living is up nearly 20% after selling off a portfolio of nursing homes for $204M (which is equal to around half its quarterly revenue).
- In currencies, USD/CAD tested the lower end of the 1.04 area following the better-than-expect Canadian employment data. The Sept net change in employment report dramatically exceeded expectations, with the headline +30.6K versus the 5K consensus view. However, dealers are saying these gains nearly all came in the public sector, while the private sector employment actually lost 17.1K despite some growth in manufacturing, construction and education. The USD continues to consolidate its tone against the majors on some technical exhaustion in its downward momentum ahead of the US banking holiday on Monday (Columbus day). However, the commodity currencies continued with their positive tone.
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