Dow +27 S&P +2 NASDAQ +4.3 - US equity markets are up slightly in early trading this morning in the absence of major economic or corporate news. The dollar is also gaining, as both gold and crude lose ground in thin trading. After a record streak over the last several weeks, gold is well off the all-time highs seen at the end of last week as investors have had time to reflect on Friday's non-farm payrolls data. As for crude, a barrage of OPEC commentary that production won't change at the December 22nd confab has kept steady downward pressure on the front-month NYMEX contract. Treasury prices are moving higher helping the benchmark yield continue to back away from the 3.5% mark reached on Friday.
- With Bank of America set to repay TARP this week, various stories are making the rounds about Citigroup's government stake. On Sunday the FT wrote that Citi is trying to convince US officials to allow it to repay $20B of its TARP funds. According to the article, some Citi executives have said the bank should be allowed to repay its TARP funds due to its more than $240B of cash reserves and improving financial performance. With the financial sector now healing, the WSJ reports that the Obama administration plans to cut the projected cost of TARP by more than $200B. The Treasury estimates that over the next 10 years, TARP will cost $141B versus $341B projected by the White House in August.
- Selected insurance names are up this morning on guidance calls. Met Life guided in line with expectations for its Q4, 2009 and 2010. MetLife's CEO said the firm's operating ROE would be approx 10% for 2010. Cigna reaffirmed its 2009 and 2010 guidance. MET and CI are both up about 4%.
- Analyst upgrades and downgrades are moving selected names. AMD was up as much as 9% on an upgrade to Outperform from Underperform at Bernstein, which noted that the recent legal settlement with Intel has cleared the firm's biggest roadblock. STP is up 7% and heading higher after Barclays raised the name to Overweight from Equal Weight. ZLC is down 20% after Soleil Securities to a Sell from Hold.
- In other news, American Axle guided 2010 revenue below par, sending shares of AXL down 5% before the open. AXL is up 4% in early trading. Blyth is down 14% after reporting a small quarterly loss versus expectations for a strong profit and cutting its 2010 earnings outlook. AKAM is up 2-3% after offering strong guidance for the current quarter.
- The greenback managed to hold onto most of its gains against the European currencies during the New York session. Dealers are watching increases in US two-year yields for clues on the next leg of the price action. One European dealer said the US Treasury 2-year yield have moved from 0.65% to 0.85% over the last few weeks, warning that a move above 0.85% could provide momentum for USD to recovery from 15-month lows against the euro (and other currencies). For the moment, the focus for the EUR/USD pair remains the 1.4800 level, which will dictate what happens next. A firm break would expose 1.4627 (early Nov lows) while a bounce higher would suggest easing of liquidation pressures
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