Trading has been choppy with indices slipping lower in the late NY mornings after testing fresh 13-month highs early on. The morning's weekly claims data was a bit below expectations, and the initial claims hit their lowest level since January 2nd. Note that the four-week moving average for initial claims is now at its lowest level since late November, 2008. The FHA, which insures one out of every five US mortgages, disclosed today that its 2009 mortgage reserves hit their lowest level in 20 years and warned that the reserve ratio could drop below zero soon. The insurance program tripled in size last year and has taken on more risk as private industry sources dry up. Note that back in October, HUD Secretary Donovan (who oversees the FHA) and FHA Commissioner Stevens both strenuously insisted that the FHA does not need a bailout. After touching the $80 handle earlier this morning, front-month crude has dropped right down to $77 in the wake of the unexpectedly large builds in the weekly crude and gasoline inventories data. Bond futures are giving back yesterday's gains but yields are basically where they resided on Tuesday as pits have reopened following the one day hiatus. The 10-year note yields just above 3.45% with the long bond below 4.4% ahead of this afternoon's auction.
Wal-Mart offered mixed results for its Q3, beating analysts' bottom-line projections but missing revenue targets by a hair. The retail giant's guidance range for Q4 was below expectations, while its FY10 view was largely in line. CEO Duke said the sales environment continued to be difficult this quarter, but customer traffic is up throughout the company. Regional department store name Kohl's came in slightly ahead of estimates for its Q3, although its Q4 view fell short of expectations. Kohl's CEO said he expects competition to be very aggressive on price; believes Kohl's is poised for a positive holiday season. Both WMT and KSS are up very slightly in early trading. Share of Advance Auto Parts fell as much as 6.5% before recovering somewhat despite largely in line expectations, after the firm said it would top out store closing at 40-50 in 2009 due to poor sales. Competitor AZO is down nearly 2% in sympathy.
Hewlett-Packard offered a preliminary view of its Q4 this morning after announcing it would acquire network hardware firm 3Com for $2.7B. HP's results for the quarter, next quarter and the full year beat expectations. HP noted that the 3Com would be slightly dilutive to its 2010 earnings. Shares of COMS are up nearly 32%. Intel reached a deal to settle all outstanding antitrust and patent disputes with AMD, paying the latter $1.25B and entering a five-year cross license deal. Intel said the settlement fee would be booked as an expense in Q4, and also said it would raise its research and management expenses significantly. AMD is up 24%, while INTC is unchanged. Applied Materials crushed expectations for its Q4 and in its guidance for Q1 and said it would cut up to 12% of its workforce over the next 18 months. Investors don't like the news, and AMAT is down 3%. Note also that mid-cap tech firm Aecom is up 8% and headed higher after offering very strong full-year guidance.
In other acquisition news this morning, Dow Chemical said it would sell its power coating business to Aker Nobel for an undisclosed amount, as part of its ongoing de-leveraging plans. GE sold its security unit to United Tech for $1.8B. Shares of DOW are up 7%, while GE is mostly unchanged.
In FX trading, the dollar maintained a firmer tone against the major pairs through the New York morning. A series of dollar-supportive comments were heard out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC, which is being held in Singapore today. The ECB's Bonello noted that there was a growing consensus for a stronger dollar against the euro and other major currencies. The Fed's Plosser commented that a strong global economy and weaker US economy likely meant that USD could depreciate further. Plosser did state that the dollar was not even where it was before the crisis started but one needs to be aware of gold, other asset prices and FX levels. EUR/USD tested the 1.4905 level mid morning. USD/JPY tested above the 90.40 level as dealers saw good North American demand from the outset of the European session, with CTA model types leading the pair higher.
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