- US equity indices rose in the premarket and continued gaining just after the opening bell this morning on the better initial claims numbers and strength in the financials on news BoA would repay TARP. But things have headed back to flat on the day after the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index missed expectations and sank below the key 50 level. Shares of BoA, which were up as much as +7% in the first 30 minutes of trade, are close to flat for the day mid morning. Fed Chairman Bernanke faces confirmation hearings before the Senate this morning, although so far he has largely reiterated his well-known positions. Front-month crude broke above the $77 handle earlier in the session, although it is around $76.50 in mid morning trade.
- GE and Comcast announced a final agreement over NBC Universal. Comcast will take a 51% stake in the business, while GE will retain 49%. As previously announced, GE will acquire Vivendi's 20% interest for $5.8B. Comcast will pay GE $6.5B in cash for the stake. The deal values NBC Universal at $30B. Note that Comcast also raised its quarterly dividend 40% this morning. CMCSA is up 7%, GE is up about 1%.
- In earnings, Toll Brothers reported a larger than expected quarterly loss, although revenue was well above consensus expectations. The company signed fewer new contracts in Q4 than in the prior quarter, and its backlog shrank. Shares of TOL are down 4.5%. Del Monte beat top- and bottom-line expectations and raised its 2010 earnings guidance slightly. DLM is up 6%.
- November same-store sales were broadly worse than expected, and for many firms performance in the month was worse than in October. Abercrombie & Fitch and Children's Place swung back to big declines after surprisingly good performance in October (PLCE-10%, ANF-5%). Ross Stores did better than expected and The Gap was in line. Warehouse rivals BJ's and Costco both missed expectations, although both improved on October's performance (BJ-5%, COST -2.5%). Department store names were notably behind expectations, with the exception of Kohl's and Nordstrom. KSS and JWN are in positive territory, most of the other leading department store names are deep in the red.
- The greenback managed to regain some composure in the New York session as choppy price action accompanied ECB commentary on its exit strategy. The dollar was initially firm after the ECB said it would maintain its full allotment of refis at least through April 2010. However, EUR/USD tested the upper parameter of the alleged binary option barrier at 1.5150 after the ECB noted it would scale back its emergency financing operations next year. ECB staff revised their GDP projections: they now see 2009 Euro Zone GDP -3.9% to 4.1% (-3.8% to -4.4% prior) and 2010 GDP +1.1% to +1.5% (-0.5% to +0.9% prior). The USD firmed up after the projections were disclosed; dealers noted that they expected the projections to be more bullish.
- USD/JPY regained a foothold above the 88 handle and tried to offset bearish technical factors. With the Japanese Foreign Minister in New York, dealers noted that a rumor was circulating that Japan might inform the Treasury they intend to sell $100B of their treasury holdings to pay for domestic programs. As per the latest TIC data, Japan's total holdings of US Treasuries was $751B, making it the second largest holder of US govt debt.
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