Dow -43 S&P -3.7 NASDAQ -16.5 - US equity trading has been roiled by housing data and comments from Fed Governor Bullard this morning. Just before the open Bullard said it was possible the Fed would not raise rates until 2012, given the past behavior of the FOMC. Varying interpretations of Bullard's comments were offered up immediately, although the consensus seems to be that despite some initial market volatility his comments do not signal any change in tone on rates. Housing starts declined to their lowest level since April and building permits also came in on the downside. Some attribute the restrained starts to wet weather across much of the nation while other suggested that market may have seized up while builders waited to see if the administration would extend the first-time home buyer incentive. On the positive side, the Baltic Dry Index rose to its highest levels since last September. Front-month crude is testing $80 for the first time in a week as DoE weekly inventory data registered a large unexpected decline. Treasury prices after moving into positive territory briefly on the initial Bullard headlines remain lower. The 10-year yield is holding near 3.35% while the long bond is a shade above 4.25%.
- In earnings, BJ's Wholesale met consensus estimates for its Q3 and guided strong comp store sales growth and improved margins for next quarter. Note that the company still expects negative comps for 2009. Shares of BJ are down 2%. Retailer Chico's FAS crushed analysts' expectations for its Q3 and racked up double-digit comp store sales growth. CHS is up 13% in the early going. Chinese solar name Solarfun reported double the consensus view on the bottom line, although revenue was right in line. Solarfun's CEO said he expects strong demand from Germany and new markets like China and the United States in 2010. SOLF is up 6% mid morning trading. Autodesk is down 10% on a ratings downgrade at BoA/Merrill Lynch and weak earnings guidance for next quarter.
- In other news, Hershey said it is discussing a joint bid for Cadbury with Italian firm Ferrero to block Kraft's bid for the firm. Analysts at JP Morgan reiterated that any Hershey bid for company has low probability, given the firm's small size. Mortgage insurers are up this morning, led by Ambac, which is up 35%. Ambac discussed its settlement of soured CDO of ABS transactions, and said it expects to record $440M in tax refunds in Q4. VIVUS rose as much as 10% before the bell on news that a Phase III study of its erectile dysfunction Avanafil met all primary endpoints. VVUS is up 5% in mid morning trading.
- Headline roulette is driving the price action this morning. The US housing data gave the dollar a brief reprieve from bearish momentum coming out of the European session. Weak housing starts convinced investors that housing will be unable to lead the economy out of recession, prompting risk aversion. Fed Governor Bullard noted that the FOMC did not begin policy rate increases until 2.5 to 3 years after the end of each of the past two recessions. The comment provided some bearish dollar momentum and again aided spot gold to hits fresh all-time highs above the $1,150/oz.
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