***Economic Data*** - (US) MBA Mortgage Applications w/e Mar 19th: % v -1.9% prior - (US) Feb Durable Goods Orders: 0.5% v 0.6%e; Durables Ex Transportation: 0.9% v 0.6%e - (NO) Norway Central Bank (Norges) maintained the Deposit Rate at 1.75%; as expected but lowered it GDP forecast for 2010. Interest Rates to increase later than previously expected; - (US) Feb New Home Sales: 308K v 315Ke; Sales M/M: -2.2% v 1.9%e; lowest reading on record - (TU) Turkey Mar Capacity Utilization Rate: 67.9% v 67.8% prior - 10:30 (US) DOE Weekly energy inventories: Crude: +7.2M v +1.3Me; Gasoline: -2.7M v -1.5Me; Distillate: -2.4M v -1Me; Utilization: 81.1% v 80.6%e
- Heavy news flow out of Europe and the February new homes sale data in the US are factors in trading this morning. Fitch downgraded Portugal's sovereign ratings just as the first US traders were getting to their desks. Germany and France continue to exchange comments over how to arrange any Greek sovereign bailout. In addition, the UK government laid out its 2011 budget assumptions (with its AAA ratings now under the magnifying glass). With sovereign jitters once again front and center, the dollar is benefitting while commodities and US equities opened lower. US new home sales fell to their lowest level ever in February, following on the heels of yesterday's downbeat existing home sales data. Keep in mind that the Fed withdraws support for the housing market at the end of next week when it ends it MBS buying plan. Note that Fed vice-chairperson candidate Yellen offer thoughts on interest rates last night, saying it is not necessary to wait for full employment before acting on policy and that the "extended period" statement does not imply a specific timeframe. Front-month crude is down $1.30 after the weekly DoE inventory data registered its eighth straight increase in crude stockpiles; the contract is trading around $80.60 mid morning. US Treasury markets hit some stiff headwinds on the open of pit trade sending the 10-year yield back above 3.75% and the 2-year towards 1.05% for the first time since January.
- More details are emerging about the Obama Administration's latest foreclosure prevention effort. This morning CNBC reported that Bank of America had agreed to forgive loan principle of up to 30% on certain mortgages. Note that the WSJ reported earlier in the week that the White House was talking with banks about ways to address the problems of underwater mortgages. At the end of 2009, there were about 11.3M US households that were underwater, about 24% of total US households. Shares of BAC are up 2% on the news. Meanwhile, shares of mortgage insurers are racking up gains on the news, with PMI up 18%, RDN up 14%, MTG up nearly 10% and GNW up 5%. Note also that JP Morgan is negotiating to receive a $1.4B tax refund for losses in 2009 at its Washington Mutual unit.
- Earnings from General Mills were a bit ahead of expectations, while it also increased its full year guidance by a hair. GIS is down 1% or so, in line with markets. Jabil Circuit's earnings met expectations, although revenue was a bit soft. Investors are punishing JBL, with shares of the firm down 8%. Shares of Darden Restaurants are up 2% after declining around 2% just after the open after its Q3 report. Darden increased its guidance for 2010 earnings and comps. The firm also said that its Q3 was its first quarter of positive same-restaurant sales in nearly two years, and other casual dining names are keeping in the black this morning with DRI. After the open homebuilder Lennar spiked as much as 7% before dropping back to +5% on a much smaller than expected quarterly loss and better than expected revenue. Other homebuilders are up 1-2% on the news (HOV is up 3%), helping them weather the poor housing data. Starbucks popped 2% after announcing its first dividend payments and incrementally increasing its stock buyback plan. Note that Conoco also discussed plans to increase its dividend, buy back shares and sell more assets. The firm's existing plans to sell $10B in assets over the next two years will help fund the bigger payouts to shareholders.
- In currency trading, the greenback was off its best levels against the major pairs in the later New York morning, although European sovereign issues and higher interest rates versus Japan all helped strengthen the dollar. Sterling tested two-week lows around 1.4870 following Chancellor Darling's budget speech. Although he highlighted that UK budget deficits would be smaller than previously forecasted (overall debt level nearly Â£100B lower by 2013-14 versus expectations in last year's budget), the comments failed to convince markets that Labour would tackle the UK's dire fiscal situation. Major rating agencies will now review the budget to see if Britain's "AAA" ratings can be maintained. Note that an EU deficit report stated that the UK was a bit over optimistic on its economic forecasts. USD/JPY hit five week highs just under the 92 handle as a combination of interest rate differentials and Japanese plans to invest in overseas bonds at the start of its new fiscal year.
***Looking Ahead*** - 10:45 Fed's Hoenig - 11:00 ECB's Stark - 11:00 (MX) Mexico Feb Preliminary Trade Balance: -2M v -333M prior - 12:00 (SZ) SNB's Jordan - 12:15 (US) US Tsy Wolin - 12:45 (CA) Bank of Canada's Gov Carney - 13:00 (FR) France Feb Net Change Total Jobseekers: No est v 19.5K prior; Total Jobseekers: No est v 2.66M prior - 13:00 (US) US to sell $42B in 5-year notes - 14:00 (US) Fed's Braunstein
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