Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday Watch

Weekend Headlines

  • Budget Talks Stall Over Income, Estate Taxes. With little more than a day remaining to avert tax increases for almost every U.S. worker and to halt federal spending cuts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell worked to bridge gaps over income tax rates, the estate tax and other issues. “There’s still significant differences between the two sides but negotiations continue,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on the Senate floor today. The Senate will resume its session tomorrow at 11 a.m. Washington time and “perhaps” have further announcements then, he said. “I certainly hope so.” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, reached out to Vice President Joe Biden in an effort to break the impasse.
  • Merkel Calls for German Patience as Euro Crisis ‘Far From Over’. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the economic environment will be more difficult in 2013 than this year, and that Europe’s sovereign debt crisis is “far from over,” though progress has been made. “The reforms that we’ve agreed on are starting to take effect,” Merkel, who faces federal elections in September, said in a New Year’s television speech to the nation, sent today in advance by e-mail. “Nevertheless, we still need a lot of patience. The crisis is far from over.”
  • French Court Says 75% Tax Rate on Rich Is Unconstitutional. President Francois Hollande’s 75 percent millionaire-tax is unconstitutional because it fails to guarantee taxpayer equality, France’s top court ruled today. The tax, one of Hollande’s campaign promises, had become a focal point of discontent among entrepreneurs and other wealth creators, some of whom have quit French shores as a result. The ruling comes as the president seeks to cut France’s public deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product next year from a projected 4.5 percent this year. “Politically, this has an impact because it was a symbol for French public opinion, and was considered abroad as the emblem of French tax excess, of French tax hell,” said Dominique Barbet, senior economist at BNP Paribas SA in Paris. “In deficit terms, it’s truly negligible.”
  • Spain’s Iberdrola Has Four Units Taken Over by Bolivian State. Bolivian army and police seized buildings occupied by Iberdrola SA (IBE) yesterday, hours after President Evo Morales ordered the nationalization of four business units owned by Spain’s largest utility. “We have been forced to make this decision as we want to have egalitarian electricity rates in rural and urban areas,” Morales said yesterday morning in a broadcast from the presidential palace.
  • PBOC to Control Risks, Seek Appropriate Financing Growth. China’s central bank said it will focus on controlling risks in the financial system and will seek “stable and appropriate” growth in aggregate financing, a measure of funding that includes loans, stock and bond sales. The People’s Bank of China also said it will stick to a prudent monetary policy next year and try to stabilize growth, rebalance the economy and contain inflation. The four-paragraph statement released late Dec. 28 after a quarterly meeting of the monetary policy committee, mostly reiterated the stance set out at a government work conference earlier this month. The PBOC’s addition of “controlling risks” as a policy objective may signal growing concern that a surge in non-bank lending over the past two years will lead to defaults that could trigger social unrest. Regulators “may tighten control on the quality and quantity of credit supply, particularly through non-bank channels such as trust loans” in the first half of 2013, Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Hong Kong, said in a note after the central bank report. A slowdown in credit growth would feed through to a moderation in economic expansion, he said
  • BRIC Dominance Ebbs as State Meddling Means Equities Trail World. Stocks in the biggest developing markets are lagging behind global equities for a record third year as faster economic growth proves no lure for investors amid concerns over government interference in markets. The MSCI BRIC Index (MXBRIC) of shares in Brazil, Russia, India and China rose 11 percent this year, trailing the MSCI All-Country World Index by 1.6 percentage points. The trend will probably persist in 2013, according to John-Paul Smith, a Deutsche Bank AG strategist. Mutual funds that invest in BRIC nations have posted $1.65 billion of outflows as Brazilian politicians intervened to cut utility rates, China maintained control of its biggest companies and Russian businesses spent shareholder money on projects favored by the government. 
  • Lumber Prices May Tumble 25% After Leading Commodities in 2012. Lumber futures may tumble as much as 25% from a seven-year high as output increases in Canada, the world's biggest exporter, according to Forest Economic Advisors LLC. The price may touch $300 per 1,000 board feet in 2013, Paul F. Jannke, a principal at the consulting company, said in a telephone interview. In mid-October, he correctly forecast the rally. "We're pretty close to the peak," Jannke said. "The initial spike tends to be the highest, then production ramps up. If the mills increase shifts from a 40-hour week to a 50-hour week, that's a big jump, and everybody is ratcheting up their work weeks." 
  • Hedge Funds Cut Bullish Bets to Lowest Since June: Commodities. Hedge funds cut bullish commodity bets to a six-month low as mounting concern that slowing economic growth will erode demand drove prices toward the first fourth-quarter retreat since the global recession. Speculators reduced net-long positions across 18 U.S. futures and options by 11 percent to 675,625 million contracts in the week ended Dec. 24, the lowest since June 19, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Gold holdings reached a four-month low, while those for copper dropped for the first time in five weeks. Investors are the most bearish on natural gas since May.
  • Russia Says No Chance of Convincing Assad to Quit. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad told a top United Nations envoy this week that he won’t quit before his term ends in 2014, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “It’s impossible to change his position,” Lavrov said at a joint press conference after talks in Moscow today with UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who met Assad in Damascus on Dec. 24.
  • UN Envoy Warns of Syria ‘Hell’ as Beheaded Bodies Found. UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned yesterday that the war in Syria is spiraling into “hell” and giving rise to warlords. The Syrian army killed 143 people across the country yesterday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement. Fifty unidentified beheaded corpses with signs of torture were recovered behind Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus, the group said. “The situation is bad and it’s getting worse,” Brahimi said in Cairo. “I can’t see anything other than these two paths: Either there will be a political solution that will meet the ambitions and legitimate rights of the Syrian people, or Syria will turn into hell.”
  • Japan Detains Chinese Fishing Boat Amid Tensions Over Islands. Japan detained a Chinese fishing boat that entered its waters, bringing the captain and two of the vessel’s crew members in for questioning, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. The boat’s captain, Lin Shiqin, admitted his vessel entered Japanese waters, Xinhua reported. China sent a diplomat to visit the three crew members detained by the Japanese coast guard, Xinhua said, citing the Chinese Consulate General in Fukuoka. 
Wall Street Journal: 
  • Unthinkable Cuts Almost a Reality. Mandatory federal spending cuts designed to be prohibitively drastic will become a reality on Wednesday if negotiators remain unable to reach an agreement to avert the reductions.
  • France Seeks New Path to High Tax. The government of Socialist President François Hollande on Sunday said it would consider other ways of imposing a top income-tax rate of 75% on high-wealth individuals after the country's top constitutional authority scrapped the plan. The Constitutional Council's decision is a political blow to Mr. Hollande, who had vowed to shift to the rich the burden of efforts to improve the country's finances. "Humiliating," French weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche said in a front-page banner headline Sunday. The council sanctioned Mr. Hollande's "fiscal bludgeoning," former Prime Minister François Fillon told French radio.
  • Gauging the Guidance That Models Give the Fed. When the Federal Reserve said in December that it would keep short-term interest rates near zero until the unemployment rate falls to 6.5%, it was backed by a team of geeks who get little attention outside the central bank but a lot of attention inside. The geeks have names such as Ferbus, Edo and Sigma. They are computer-modeling programs the central bank uses to make predictions about how various policies and events will play out across the economy. In December, the Fed wanted to telegraph how long it would keep interest rates low. To do that it used forecasting models to map out different scenarios. Looking to the models for guidance, Fed officials decided to announce they would keep interest rates near zero until the unemployment rate drops to 6.5%. The models told them such a commitment would help nudge unemployment lower—it was 7.7% in November—and wouldn't risk a big burst of inflation. But here is the problem: The models are deeply flawed. They failed to foresee the financial crisis in 2008 and have tended to overestimate the strength of the economy for several years. Could they fail the Fed again? Of course, no model or human can perfectly predict the future. But the Fed models have a more specific problem. Despite all their complexity and sophistication, they have long been plagued by gaps in how they read and project the economy. One of the biggest is that they have ignored the nuances of the financial system—one of the primary channels through which Fed policy works.
  • Flying Is Safest Since Dawn of Jet Age. Air travel is now the safest it has been since the dawn of jet planes, with the global airline industry set to mark its lowest rate of fatal accidents since the early 1960s. There have been 22 fatal crashes world-wide this year, a number that includes all passenger and cargo flights, down from 28 crashes in 2011, according to data assembled by the Aviation Safety Network, which compiles accident and incident information online. That crash count is down from a 10-year average of 34 fatal accidents per year. The figures were compiled before Saturday's crash of a Russian-built jet near Moscow, in which four people were killed when the plane careened off a runway and caught fire.
  • Container Ships Bulk Up, and Slow Down. Grappling with excess container capacity and declining shipping fares, companies such as CMA CGM of France, owner of the Marco Polo, and A.P. Møller Maersk of Denmark are racing to operate the biggest-possible ships so they can benefit from economies of scale, and run them at moderate speeds to save on fuel costs.
  • Pension Funds Call For Insider Curbs. A group of pension funds that oversee more than $3 trillion in assets asked U.S. securities regulators to revamp rules on how corporate executives can trade their company stock.
  • China stocks bear risk of capitulation in 2013. Commentary: China’s new leaders can expect short honeymoon. Many of the factors that plagued mainland Chinese stocks last year remain in the year ahead. China may have new faces in its leadership, but it faces the same old problems with its economy.
Fox News:
  • If There's a 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal, It's Likely to Be Small. Whether negotiated in a rush before the new year or left for early January, the fiscal deal President Barack Obama and Congress cobble together will be far smaller than what they initially envisioned as an alternative to purposefully distasteful tax increases and spending cuts. Instead, their deal, if a deal they indeed cut, will put off some big decisions about tax and entitlement changes and leave other deadlines in place that will likely lead to similar moments of brinkmanship, some n just a matter of weeks.
Zero Hedge:
Business Insider:
Wall Street All-Stars:
New York Times: 
  • Settlement Expected on Past Abuses in Home LoansBanking regulators are close to a $10 billion settlement with 14 banks that would end the government’s efforts to hold lenders responsible for foreclosure abuses like faulty paperwork and excessive fees that may have led to evictions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
Denver Post:
  • Intel’s(INTC) Cable TV Service And Set Top Box Will Soon Roll Out City By City. Intel is preparing to launch its rumored virtual cable TV service and set top box and has a plan to overcome licensing hurdles. Rather than roll out nationwide, the launch will happen on a city-by-city basis so Intel has more flexibility in negotiating licensing with reluctant content providers, according to a video industry source. The Intel box may also eliminate a core frustration with DVRs.
  • China academics warn of "violent revolution" if no political reform. A prominent group of Chinese academics has warned in a bold open letter that the country risks "violent revolution" if the government does not respond to public pressure and allow long-stalled political reforms. The 73 scholars, including well-known current and retired legal experts at top universities and lawyers, said political reform had not matched the quick pace of economic expansion. "If reforms to the system urgently needed by Chinese society keep being frustrated and stagnate without progress, then official corruption and dissatisfaction in society will boil up to a crisis point and China will once again miss the opportunity for peaceful reform, and slip into the turbulence and chaos of violent revolution," they wrote. 
  • Bad China bets ruin 2012 for Asia's star fund managers. The Warren Buffetts of the East failed to live up their reputations in 2012, when big-name investment gurus made the wrong calls on China while markets in India and Southeast Asia raced ahead to rank among the top performers globally. 
  • Al Qaeda offers gold bounty for US ambassador in Yemen. Al Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen have pledged to give three kilograms of gold - worth around £100,000 - to anyone who can kill the US ambassador in Sanaa. An audio message posted on militant websites also offered around £15,000 for the head of any American soldier found fighting in the country. A statement from the al Malahem Foundation, reported by the Associated Press, said the bounties would be valid for six months and were issued to "inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad."
Frankfurt Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung:
  • Bundesbank's Weidmann Warns Euro Crisis Not Yet Over. The causes of the crisis haven't been resolved, says Germany Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann in an interview. Govt. bond purchases by the ECB bear stability risks and the danger of mixing monetary and fiscal policies, Weidman said. The euro system shouldn't mutualize state solvency risks, Weidmann said. Weidmann proposes to limit banks' holding of govt. bonds and that govt bonds need to be secured with capital.
  • Siemen's Loescher Expects Headwinds From Euro Zone. Siemens AG, Europe's largest engineering company, expects declining economic growth rates in 2013 with a slight recession in the euro zone, CEO Peter Loescher said in an interview.
Der Spiegel: 
  • General Motors Co.'s(GM) European division plans production cut of more than 10% to 845,000 vehicles in 2013.
  • German Finance Ministry Prepares Spending Cuts. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has mandated a task force to work out details for a budget restructuring plan. Proposals include abolishing the reduced VAT rate and increasing working years before retirement.
To Vima:
  • Greece's main opposition Syriza party, which opposes terms agreed to by the government in exchange for bailout funds from the European Union and IMF, has 22.6% voter support, a poll by Kapa Research shows. PM Antonis Samaras's New Democracy party would get 21.5% if elections were held now. Nationalist Golden Dawn party would place third with 9.8% voter support.
  • China's small businesses continue to face difficulty getting loans as lenders view them as risky, citing the chief engineer of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
China Securities Journal:
  • China should expand the scope of property and resource tax trials, citing Li Wei, head of the State Council's Development Research Center. China should develop new "revenue sources" for local governments, citing Li.
Weekend Recommendations
  • Bullish commentary on (MSI), (V), (AAPL), (PAY), (CRUS), (NOV), (ROST) and (MA).
Night Trading
  • Asian indices are -.50% to +.25% on average.
  • Asia Ex-Japan Investment Grade CDS Index 112.50 +2.0 basis points.
  • Asia Pacific Sovereign CDS Index 88.25 +.5 basis point.
  • FTSE-100 futures n/a.
  • S&P 500 futures +.21%.
  • NASDAQ 100 futures -.01%.
Morning Preview Links

Earnings of Note

  • (CALM)/.90
Economic Releases 
  • None of note
Upcoming Splits
  • (AIRM) 3-for-1
Other Potential Market Movers
  • The Dallas Fed Manufacturing Activity Index for December and the China Manufacturing PMI could also impact trading today.
BOTTOM LINE: Asian indices are mostly lower, weighed down by technology and financial shares in the region. I expect US stocks to open modestly higher and to weaken into the afternoon, finishing modestly lower. The Portfolio is 25% net long heading into the week.

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