Thursday, April 30, 2009

Friday Watch

Late-Night Headlines

- Al-Qaeda and related terrorist networks suffered setbacks last year, even as they remained the “greatest threat” to the U.S. and its allies, the State Department said in a report today. The annual assessment of terrorism threats cited “significant achievements” in 2008, such as the capturing or killing of terrorist leaders in Pakistan, Iraq and Colombia. The number of terrorist incidents worldwide fell 20 percent to 11,770 in 2008 from 14,506 a year earlier, according to the department’s tally. Fatalities dropped to 15,765 from 22,508. “Terrorist leaders were kept on the move, kept in hiding,” Ronald Schlicher, the department’s acting coordinator of counterterrorism, told reporters in Washington. “Dozens of countries passed new counter-terrorism laws,” and worldwide efforts to squeeze terrorist finances may have led al-Qaeda to solicit for money in their recent public messages, he said.

- The Federal Reserve will postpone the release of stress tests on the biggest U.S. banks while executives debate preliminary findings with examiners, according to government and industry officials. The results, originally scheduled for publication on May 4, now may not be revealed until toward the end of next week, said the people, who declined to be identified. A new release date may be announced as soon as tomorrow, they said.

- Gold fell for a second day as rising equity markets added to signs of improvement in the world economy and reduced the investment appeal of the metal. European stocks posted a record monthly gain yesterday, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index completed its best monthly performance in nine years. “There was a time when we saw a safe-haven bid for gold and that is clearly not as strong as it was,” David Moore, commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia Ltd., said from Sydney. “Without that safe-haven investment, the overall demand for gold is diminishing.” Investment demand, the biggest driver of gold prices the past 18 months, is waning amid stronger equity markets and signs industrial production may have bottomed, Moore said. While demand from jewelry makers, the biggest users, has improved, it remains “tepid,” he said.

- The yen slid to a two-week low against the euro and weakened against the dollar on speculation a report today will show U.S. manufacturing contracted at a slower pace, encouraging investors to buy higher-yielding assets.

Wall Street Journal:

- The U.S. government's restructuring plan for Chrysler LLC is sounding alarm bells for those in the business of lending money who worry that the plan could subvert decades of standing legal precedent and investing principles. Banks, hedge funds and other investors that hold $6.9 billion in secured loans are being asked to release their contractual claims over Chrysler's assets in exchange for a fraction of what they are owed. Many lenders see that as a raw deal, because in the bankruptcy code's priority scheme, secured creditors are supposed to get paid before unsecured creditors such as employees.

- The World Health Organization said Thursday that a new flu strain continued to spread, particularly in Mexico and the U.S., but refrained from declaring a global pandemic even as more European countries confirmed cases. Amid a growing debate around the globe about travel restrictions, the United Nations public-health agency raised the number of confirmed cases of the A/H1N1 virus to 257 from the 148 reported Wednesday.

- Oracle Corp.(ORCL) is developing a set of online software offerings, an expansion of the company's use of a business model it has often resisted. The software giant is working on seven new online products, including offerings to help business run sales campaigns, keep track of employees and job applicants, according to people briefed on the plans and a company document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

- How has the recession affected entrepreneurship? So far, it’s helped to drive it up. That’s according to a new study from the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based organization. The study, out Thursday, found that an average of 320 out of 100,000 adults created a new business each month last year even as the recession took hold, up from 300 out of 100,000 adults in 2007.

- The Federal Reserve is near announcing new terms on one of its lending programs that officials hope will help revive the commercial real estate market, according to people familiar with the matter. The program is the Term Asset Backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, in which investors are given low-cost loans from the Fed and in turn use the money to buy securities backed by consumer debt. The loans in this program are three year loans and so far have been aimed at car debt, credit card debt and other consumer loans. The Fed is preparing to announce new loans with five year terms, to better match the needs of investors in commercial mortgage backed securities, an effort to boost that sector.

- The animal-rights group PETA is preparing a campaign against McDonald's Corp., hoping to pressure the fast-food giant into changing the way millions of chickens are raised and slaughtered. With its campaign, budgeted at about $500,000 this year, PETA is hoping to spur industry-wide change by pressuring an iconic chain that uses three billion eggs and 290 million chickens a year.

- “It’s about time…It’s about change.” That was Barack Obama’s campaign slogan. Judging by statements from the White House of late, President Obama’s change extends to definitions like, say, fiduciary duty. Specifically, the fiduciary duty of hedge funds, those private pools of capital that the White House called out today for rejecting the Treasury Department’s offer to cut the auto maker’s debt. “Their failure to act in either their own economic interest or the national interest does not diminish the accomplishments” by Chrysler, its planned alliance partner Fiat SpA and other stakeholders in the company, said an administration official. Wait, the national interest is a standard for hedge-fund investing? Then the SEC had better update its Web site, where the agency says hedge-fund managers have the same fiduciary duties as other investment advisers. And what is fiduciary duty? “Fiduciary duty is the first principle of the investment adviser—because the duty comes not from the SEC or another regulator, but from common law,” said Lori A. Richards, then director of the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, in this February 2006 speech. “A fiduciary must act for the benefit of the person to whom he owes fiduciary duties, to the exclusion of any contrary interest.”
- The Japanese government reported Friday that the country's core consumer price index fell 0.1% in March, the first year-over-year decline since late 2007, raising concerns of a potential deflationary spiral.

- Investors still stung by the market downturn may want to consider the recent performance of growth-stock focused mutual funds as an antidote. In the first quarter growth funds beat their value rivals by the largest margin in nine years. And as of April 28, midcap growth funds this year are up 4.3%, small-cap growth funds are up 0.8% while large-cap growth has returned 2.6%, according to investment researcher Morningstar Inc., which provided the data Thursday. By contrast large-cap value funds are down 6%, midcap value funds have lost 1.7% and small-cap value funds have lost 4.4%. As of early Thursday afternoon, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (SPX) was down about 3% in 2009.
- ‘Sell in May and Go Away’ May Not Be a Good Idea This Year. Despite a massive April rally that gave the indexes their highest monthly percentage gains in years, market pros remain fairly confident even if they do expect some natural pullback to happen along the way. "A lot of the old adages right now are kind of out the window given what we've seen happen," says Dave Lutz, managing director at Stifel Nicolaus. "The economic cycles have changed so much in the last 12 months that it's kind of difficult to pinpoint seasonality." Lutz sees a market that could soon register in the mid-900s on the S&P. "Well if history is any guide—it’s never gospel—investors may be wiser to "turn a deaf ear this year,' " says Standard & Poor's chief investment strategist Sam Stovall, who notes that the S&P has rallied between May and October during or shortly after the 14 bear market bottoms since 1932. Schaeffer's Investment Research, a Cincinnati firm that has taken a mostly contrarian approach to the various rallies since the bear market began, said investors anticipating a retreat could be surprised. Historical trends show that when the S&P posts six consecutive weekly gains, the trend in the ensuing weeks is actually for market gains. "Bullish momentum can last longer than most believe," Todd Salamone, Schaeffer's senior vice president of research, recently wrote to clients. "Therefore, one should be open and positioned for this possibility."

- On Thursday, the Economic Cycle Research Institute said that the recession will probably end before the summer is out. The research group, whose leading indicators have a solid track record of predicting turns in the business cycle, said enough of its key gauges have turned upward to indicate with certainty that a recovery is coming. "The economy is on the cusp of a growth rate cycle upturn—a cyclical acceleration in economic growth," ECRI said in an emailed statement. "In other words, U.S. economic growth...which is still plunging deeper into negative territory, will start becoming less negative in short order."

NY Times:

- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested on Thursday that as many as 100 detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba would end up held without trial on American soil, a scenario he acknowledged would create widespread if not unanimous opposition in Congress. The estimate from Mr. Gates was the most specific yet from the Obama administration about how many of the 241 prisoners now at Guantanamo could not be safely released, sent to other countries or appropriately tried in American courts. In January President Obama ordered the prison closed by the end of year, but his administration is still working on what to do with the detainees.
The Tennessee comptroller plans on Friday to propose a sweeping overhaul of the way the municipal bond market is regulated in the state. The comptroller, Justin P. Wilson, said Thursday that his recommended changes would prohibit small cities and counties from using sophisticated derivatives, which have crashed, causing interest payments to increase by as much as 500 percent and putting a strain on local governments. “I think what we are proposing is a fundamental change in the way we will regulate local government financing,” Mr. Wilson said in an interview. “These changes would be revolutionary.”


- After more than 18 years on the nation's highest court, Supreme Court Justice David Souter is retiring, a source close to Souter told CNN Thursday.

Seeking Alpha:

- 2009 Hedge Fund Rankings: Top 10 Asset Losers.

Google Blog:

- Since last year's DoubleClick acquisition, we've increased our focus on helping marketers and agencies use Google(GOOG) tools for all of their display advertising needs. DoubleClick Rich Media is the part of DoubleClick that provides the technology for the most technically advanced and engaging of these display ads, which are typically created by creative agencies for their brand-focused clients. To help make this process even easier and efficient, today we're launching DoubleClick Studio, our new rich media production and development tool.


- With a flash of anger Thursday morning, President Barack Obama offered a blistering critique of “a small group of speculators” who refused to go along with the government’s plan to keep Chrysler out of bankruptcy. A group calling itself “The Committee of Chrysler Non-Tarp Lenders” put out a statement Thursday complaining that the negotiating process was unfair – because they were forced to deal with the banks that had taken significant government investment, and therefore were unfairly biased toward the government’s negotiating position. The group – which refuses to list its members – claims to represent about $1 billion in loans to Chrysler, and says its members have not taken any government TARP bailout money. “We have been systematically precluded from engaging in direct discussions or negotiations with the government” the group complained. “Instead, we have been forced to communicate through an obviously conflicted intermediary: a group of banks that have received billions of TARP funds.” The group also urges the public not to “succumb to unproductive and unwarranted finger pointing.” Obama’s tough tone sets up a dramatic showdown with the lenders. But it might be exactly the political fight that the White House wants right now. It’s clear that the White House thinks the politics of battling unnamed “speculators” works in its favor.


- Real estate boost: Fixer-uppers draw first-time buyers in droves.


- Charles Schwab Corp (SCHW), the largest U.S. discount brokerage, said on Thursday it would be an interested buyer if troubled peer E*Trade Financial Corp (ETFC) were willing to sell assets, but it would not launch a hostile bid.

- McAfee Inc (MFE), the No. 2 security software maker, reported a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit, helped by new software modules and partnerships with PC vendors. The company, which competes with No. 1 security software maker Symantec Corp (SYMC), forecast second quarter earnings at the high end of market expectations and its shares rose 3.9 percent in after-hours trading on Thursday

- Hartford Financial Group (HIG) posted its third straight net loss and said it plans to stop selling new policies in Japan and the United Kingdom, as the insurer reeled from the same weak financial markets that triggered a net loss at MetLife Inc (MET). Both posted results worse than analysts had expected, and their shares dropped after hours, with Hartford down 12 percent.

- Citadel Investment Group is expanding into investment banking and has hired three former Merrill Lynch executives to anchor the new operation, a source with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.

Late Buy/Sell Recommendations

- Reiterated Buy on (IRM), raised target to $32.

- Reiterated Buy on (MDCO), target $29.

- Reiterated Buy on (EXPE), target $19.

- Reiterated Buy on (MFE), raised estimates and target to $46.

- Reiterated Buy on (BEAT, target $29.

Morgan Stanley:

- Upgraded (NTDOY) to Overweight.

Night Trading
Asian Indices are -.25% to +.25% on average.
S&P 500 futures -.16%.
NASDAQ 100 futures -.07%.

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Earnings of Note
Company/EPS Estimate
- (AGN)/.53

- (CVX)/.81

- (CLX)/.90

- (ED)/.86

- (FO)/.22

- (MA)/2.61

- (UTHR)/.61

- (PPL)/.46

- (LPNT)/.63

- (HMSY)/.17

Economic Releases

10:00 am EST

- The Final Univ. of Mich. Consumer Confidence reading for April is estimated at 61.9 versus a prior estimate of 61.9.

- Factory Orders for March are estimated to fall .6% versus a 1.8% gain in February.

- ISM Manufacturing for April is estimated to rise to 38.4 versus 36.3 in March.

- ISM Prices Paid for April is estimated to rise to 34.0 versus 31.0 in March.


- Total Vehicle Sales for April are estimated to fall to 9.7M versus 9.9M in March.

Upcoming Splits
- None of note

Other Potential Market Movers
The (R) shareholders meeting, (MAR) shareholders meeting and the(OXY) shareholders meeting could also impact trading today.

BOTTOM LINE: Asian indices are mostly higher, boosted by technology and shipping stocks in the region. I expect US equities to open modestly lower and to rally into the afternoon, finishing mixed. The Portfolio is 75% net long heading into the day.

Stocks Finished Mixed as Gains in Gaming, Hospital, Alt Energy, Tech and Steel Stocks Offset Losses in Airline, Biotech, Bank, Gold and Energy Shares

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In Play

Stocks Slightly Higher into Final Hour on Falling Credit Market Angst, Declining Economic Fear

BOTTOM LINE: The Portfolio is slightly higher into the final hour on gains in my Retail longs and Technology longs. I added (IWM)/(QQQQ) hedges today, thus leaving the Portfolio 75% net long. The tone of the market is mixed as the advance/decline line is about even, sector performance is mixed and volume is above average. Investor anxiety is above average. Today’s overall market action is neutral. The VIX is rising 1.22% and is very high at 36.52. The ISE Sentiment Index is below average at 112.0 and the total put/call is about average at .85. Finally, the NYSE Arms has been running slightly above average most of the day, hitting 1.13 at its intraday peak, and is currently 1.04. The Euro Financial Sector Credit Default Swap Index is falling another 3.59% today to 145.0 basis points. This index is down from its record March 10th high of 208.75. The North American Investment Grade Credit Default Swap Index is falling another 6.09% to 158.51 basis points. This index is also well below its Dec. 5th record high of 285.99. The TED spread is falling 5.43% to 89 basis points. The TED spread is now down 374 basis points since its all-time high of 463 basis points on October 10th. The 2-year swap spread is rising 1.35% to 56.25 basis points. The Libor-OIS spread is falling .81% to 83 basis points. The 10-year TIPS spread, a good gauge of inflation expectations, is down 6 basis points to 1.48%, which is down 116 basis points since July 7th. The 10-year TIPS spread bottomed at .65% in October 1998 during the Asian financial crisis and at 1.24% in October 2001 during the technology bubble-bursting meltdown. The 3-month T-Bill is yielding .12%, which is up 3 basis points today. Today’s afternoon weakness is a bit disappointing, but not that surprising. Many short-term traders are likely taking long profits into month-end and the S&P 500 is right at a technical resistance zone. Considering the swine flu outbreak, bank stress test fears, automaker worries and large GDP decline, the broad market trades exceptionally well. I am still seeing many leading stocks experience technical breakouts on volume. As well, many of the bears’ favorite short ideas continue to explode higher. There has been another significant decline in credit market angst gauges over the last few days, which is another huge positive. The AAII % Bulls rose to 36.09%, while the % Bears rose to 43.61% this week, which remains a market positive. I expect stocks to consolidate recent gains again tomorrow before another push higher next week. Nikkei futures indicate an +75 open in Japan and DAX futures indicate a -35 open in Germany tomorrow. I expect US stocks to trade mixed-to-higher into the close from current levels on less economic fear, short-covering and diminishing credit market angst.

Today's Headlines


- U.S. stocks are poised for the biggest monthly gain since 1991 as companies from Wells Fargo & Co.(WFC) to Marriott International Inc.(MAR) and Ford Motor Co.(F) beat profit estimates, spurring speculation the recession is easing. Wells Fargo and American Express Co. reported first-quarter earnings that exceeded the average analyst forecast by more than 70 percent, propelling financial stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to a record monthly advance of 25 percent. Almost 70 percent of companies in the measure that have reported topped projections, the highest since the end of 2006. The S&P 500 has soared 11 percent this month for the steepest rally since December 1991. The benchmark index for U.S. stocks must rise only 2 percent to erase its 2009 loss after jumping 31 percent from a 12-year low on March 9.

- Credit markets in the U.S. and Europe headed for their biggest monthly rally in a year as better-than-expected corporate earnings triggered speculation the worst of the global debt crisis is over. The cost of protecting corporate bonds from default is set to fall the most since the rescue of Bear Stearns Cos. boosted investor optimism in April last year, traders of credit-default swaps said. “The market is betting we’ve hit the bottom,” said Suki Mann, a credit strategist at Societe Generale SA in London. “The rate of economic decline is slowing quite markedly and corporate earnings are beating expectations.” Credit-default swaps on the Markit iTraxx Europe index of 125 companies with investment-grade ratings dropped about 19 percent so far this month and the index was 3 basis point lower at 141.5, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. prices at 11:18 a.m. in London. In the U.S., the Markit CDX North America Investment- Grade index is headed for a 16 percent decline and in Japan the benchmark index dropped 19 percent. Spreads on high-yield bonds globally plunged 246 basis points, or 14 percent, to 1,517 in the month, the sharpest decline since the inception of Merrill Lynch & Co.’s Global High Yield Index in 1997.

- Fixed mortgage rates fell for a third consecutive week, matching the record low reached earlier this month, driven by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s plan to buy home-loan securities to bolster the housing market. The average rate of a 30-year mortgage dropped to 4.78 percent, the lowest in records dating to 1970, McLean, Virginia- based Freddie Mac said today in a statement. “We’re all cheering for the mortgage rates to keep moving lower,” said Scott Anderson, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co. in Minneapolis. “There really isn’t a better place than the 30-year conventional for value.” Mortgage rates at or near four-decade lows are raising optimism that lower home-loan costs may spur home buying.

- After helping to move 23 hedge funds to Switzerland from London in the past two years, David Butler describes the flow as a “steady trickle.” Now he’s bracing for a flood. “Call it the twin pillars of doom,” said Butler, a founding partner at hedge fund consultancy Kinetic Partners LLP in London. “Put together the U.K. tax changes and what the ogres in France and Germany have created and you will see a mass migration.” Butler said inquiries about relocations have gone up “by a factor of 10” since Britain pledged a new 50 percent rate for top earners on April 22. Many came from fund managers already mulling a move after the U.K. tinkered with tax rules for non- domiciled workers last year. They’re calling again after the European Union, backed by France and Germany, proposed yesterday to regulate buyout firms and hedge funds managing more than 100 million euros ($134 million.)

- The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. may offer investors financing to buy distressed U.S. bank assets without requiring them to share an equity stake with the Treasury, people familiar with the matter said. Treasury capital probably won’t be applied to the FDIC’s pilot program to buy as much as $1 billion of so-called legacy loans that is planned for June, the people said on condition of anonymity because no final decision has been made.

- Goldman Sachs Group Inc.(GS), by selling bonds and stock yesterday, may be signaling that there won’t be any surprises next week when the results of government stress tests are revealed. “You can read between the lines on it that nothing adverse will be coming out next week,” said Ralph Cole, a money manager at Portland, Oregon-based Ferguson Wellman Capital Management Inc., which oversees $2.2 billion. “You could easily see shareholder lawsuits if there was something really bad coming out of the government’s review.”

- The U.S. annual auto-sales rate for April may be unchanged from the previous month, signaling that the market reached bottom.

- U.S. business activity contracted at a slower pace in April as orders and production improved. The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago Inc. said today its business barometer increased to 40.1, the highest level since September, from 31.4 the prior month.

Wall Street Journal:

- Chrysler LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New York Thursday, kicking off what the Obama administration predicts will be a 30- to 60-day restructuring of the third-largest U.S. auto maker. At the same time, Chrysler entered into a partnership with Italian auto maker Fiat SpA, Mr. Obama said in a noon address.

- The World Health Organization said Thursday that a new flu strain continued to spread, particularly in Mexico and the U.S., but refrained from declaring a global pandemic even as more countries confirmed cases. Amid a growing debate around the globe about travel restrictions, the United Nations public-health agency raised the number of confirmed cases of the A/H1N1 virus to 236 from the 148 reported Wednesday.

- Walt Disney Co.(DIS) has reached a deal to buy a nearly 30% stake in Web-video aggregator Hulu and put full episodes of its ABC TV shows on the site.


- Although the Senate vote hasn't actually taken place (expected mid-afternoon) bankruptcy "cram down" is effectively dead on the Hill for the time being. The 60 votes needed are simply not there.


- Many of us have been saying it for a long time: location based services are the future. But up until now they’ve been a distant, hazy future, because they’ve been so difficult to use. That’s going to change soon, and it looks like Google(GOOG) is going to be leading the way. Google has just announced that it has become the default location provider service in Firefox, which means beginning in the latest Firefox Beta (available here) users will be able to update their location from their web browser without having to install an extra plugins or programs through Google. This is big.

- Undeterred by poor performance and a wave of redemptions in the past year, hedge fund Citadel Investment Group LLC now hopes to wade into mortgage-related securities, said sources familiar with the situation.

- As Research In Motion (RIMM) gets set to open its annual Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Orlando next week, analysts and gadget fans are expecting an introduction to the BlackBerry Niagara. This will sound familiar to Tech Rumor readers who may recall that reported last month that the Niagara, a so-called 3G world phone, meaning it works on U.S. and European networks, will be available in May at Verizon (VZ).

Lloyd’s List:

- Clarkson Plc expects there to be a “massive oversupply” of supertankers competing to lift Middle East cargoes between May 11 and 20, citing a shipbroker at the company. There are 60 ships competing for 30 cargoes during the 10-day period, citing London-based shipbrokers.

Venture Chronicles:

- On every news story this morning about the pending Chrysler bankruptcy, the narrative included “hedge funds would not agree…” as a central theme. Economic populism still carries the day in Washington. What you won’t hear in these mainstream news stories is that Treasury was demanding a huge haircut for debt holders (forget the “hedge funds” label, these are private investors who lent Chrysler money) in exchange for 15 cents on the dollar, a slap on the back and a hearty “atta boy”. Labor unions, on the other hand, were being subjected to slight changes in work rules and relieving Chrysler of paying $4b to the UAW for retiree benefits, all in exchange for 55% of the equity in the “good Chrysler” and a long term note. So basically the equation that Treasury was using was the debt holders give up 85% and get nothing, the UAW gives up half of that and gets half of Chrysler’s equity in return and long term note paying back (if I recall correctly) $5 billion by 2025. This company is worth more to creditors through bankruptcy than it is under the Treasury plan (creditors are at the top of the waterfall in a bankruptcy case, retiree benefits would resolve below creditors) and anyone who thinks GM could go through a similarly easy restructuring should watch this case under a microscope.

- Gabon has no need to draw on an existing stand-by loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the moment and will consider it as an option only if the price of oil falls below $43 a barrel, an official said on Wednesday. The tiny African state of 1.5 million, one of Africa's longest established oil producers, lowered its assumed market price for benchmark Brent crude LC0c1 to $43 a barrel from $67 in its original budget.

- World oil demand is forecast to fall this year by much more than previously expected, as growth stalls in emerging powerhouses China and India and fuel consumption declines in the developed world. The latest Reuters poll of 11 analysts, banks and industry groups shows oil consumption will decline by an average of 1.56 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2009 to 84.10 million bpd. The forecast drop in 2009 oil demand is nearly four times larger than the 430,000 bpd drop analysts had expected in January, when Reuters last polled them. "Demand has been weaker than most of us predicted in emerging markets in the last 6 months," said Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch. The latest poll sees demand growing in countries outside the OECD by 120,000 bpd in 2009 compared with 650,000 bpd in January's poll. Demand in the OECD is expected to contract by 1.7 million bpd. Crude stockpiles in OECD countries have risen rapidly in 2009, with more than 60 days cover now available despite Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decisions to cut supplies by as much as 4.2 million bpd.

- U.S. officials are leaning toward announcing the "stress test" results of individual banks next week instead of just summary results, a source familiar with administration talks said on Thursday.The source, speaking anonymously because talks are ongoing, also said officials will likely release the capital requirements of the 19 firms at their holding company level, not just the needs of their banking units.

Arabian Business:
- Dubai rental rates are declining as much as 50% according to a new list of pricing guidelines published by the real estate regulator.

Bear Radar

Style Underperformer:
Large-cap Value (-.55%)

Sector Underperformers:
Oil Service (-3.11%), Gold (-2.46%) and Energy (-2.19%)

Stocks Falling on Unusual Volume:

Stocks With Unusual Put Option Activity:
1) GMCR 2) UBS 3) ENER 4) ARNA 5) FSLR

Bull Radar

Style Outperformer:
Small-cap Growth (+2.39%)

Sector Outperformers:
Gaming (+6.51%), Alternative Energy (+5.10%) and Semis (+4.73%)

Stocks Rising on Unusual Volume:

Stocks With Unusual Call Option Activity:
1) NWL 2) WDC 3) PSS 4) FSLR 5) V

Links of Interest

Market Snapshot Commentary
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Thursday Watch

Late-Night Headlines

- Anthony Bolton, president of investments at Fidelity International, said financial shares are set to rally and ignite an equity bull market. Low valuations indicate recent gains that began in March are the start of a bull market, Bolton said. He favors financials, consumer cyclical, technology, and “value stocks,” such as retailers, automakers and construction-related shares. “All the things are in place for the bear market to have ended,” Bolton said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “When there’s a strong consensus, a very negative one, and cash positions are very high, as they are at the moment, I’d like to bet against that.”

- The cost to protect against a default on North American corporate bonds dropped the most in 12 days amid signs that the worst of the recession may be over. Credit-default swaps on a benchmark index of U.S. and Canadian corporate debt dropped the most since April 13, according to CMA DataVision. Sentiment appeared to have been bolstered as consumer spending last quarter climbed at a 2.2 percent annual pace, more than the 0.9 percent economists had estimated, said Mikhail Foux, credit strategist at Citigroup in New York. “If the consumer bottoms,” Foux said, investors are optimistic that “this quarter and next quarter we’ll have better-than-expected economic numbers.” Credit swaps on the Markit CDX North America Investment- Grade Index Series 12, linked to the bonds of 125 companies in the U.S. and Canada, dropped 9 basis points to 168 basis points as of 5:35 p.m. in New York, according to London-based CMA. A decline in the derivatives typically signals improvement in investor confidence.

- The Markit iTraxx Japan index fell 13 basis points to 342 as of 9:45 am in Tokyo, Morgan Stanley prices show. The Markit iTraxx Asia index of 50 investment grade borrowers outside Japan fell 12 basis points to 293 as of 9 am in Hong Kong, according to ICAP Plc. The Markit iTraxx Australia index was quoted 15 basis points lower at 310 as of 10:10 am in Sydney, National Australia Bank Ltd. data show.

- Visa Inc.(V), the world’s largest electronic payments network, said profit rose 71 percent as consumers relied more on debit cards to make purchases. Net income rose to $536 million, or 71 cents a share, in the fiscal second quarter, from a pro forma $314 million a year earlier, the San Francisco-based company said today in a statement. Adjusted net income was 73 cents a share, beating the 65-cent average estimate of 23 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

- First Solar Inc.(FSLR), the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film solar power modules, said first-quarter profit more than tripled as production costs fell and utilities increased demand for renewable energy. Net income climbed to $164.6 million, or $1.99 a share, from $46.6 million, or 57 cents a share, a year earlier, Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar said in a statement today. That beat the $1.50 a share average estimate of 16 analysts compiled by Bloomberg. Sales doubled to $418.2 million from $196.9 million. First Solar surged 13 percent in aftermarket trading following the release of results.

- Beverly Hills hedge-fund manager Bradley Ruderman was sued by U.S. regulators for allegedly lying to clients about losses and falsely claiming Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison was among his investors. Two hedge funds at Ruderman’s firm, Ruderman Capital Management LLC, raised at least $38 million since 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission said today in a statement announcing the suit at federal court in Los Angeles. Though the 46-year-old manager claimed annual profits of 15 percent to 61 percent, the funds lost millions of dollars and were valued at less than $1 million at the end of 2008, the agency said.

- Individual holders of General Motors Corp. bonds, dubbing themselves “silent sufferers,” called on President Barack Obama’s car task force to press the automaker for a sweeter offer for their debt. GM imperils small investors with its proposal to swap 225 new shares of stock for each $1,000 in principal under its April 27 plan to cut liabilities and win more federal aid, bondholders said today at a meeting in Warren, Michigan. “What we want to do today is to put a human face on who these bondholders are,” Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said. “These small bondholders are the silent sufferers in this situation.”

- Bill Gross, who run the world’s biggest bond fund at Pacific Investment Management Co., said the Federal Reserve is “saving ammunition” by refraining from increasing purchases of Treasuries and mortgage securities at today’s policy meeting. “Obviously they have come to the conclusion that they don’t need anything,” more at the moment, Gross said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “We by no means are out of the woods. The real problem is a delevering economy that continues and is requiring Fed purchases.” Pimco expects the Fed to add to its program of buying Treasuries if rising yields make it difficult to drive down mortgage rates, Gross said.

- Dendreon Corp.’s(DNDN) 69 percent plunge yesterday began with orders to sell hundreds of thousands of shares at whatever price buyers would pay for them. More than 3 million Dendreon shares changed hands as the stock fell from $24.25 to as low as $7.50 in 70 seconds, before trading was halted at 1:27 p.m. in New York, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In the first 20 seconds of the sell-off, more than 260,000 shares were sold at the so-called bid price, or about 60 percent of the total, showing investors were willing to accept almost any offer to unload the stock. Shareholders who sold were burned when the Seattle-based drug developer said minutes after the halt that its Provenge cancer treatment extended the lives of men in a clinical study, spurring a rally of more than 130 percent after hours. The Nasdaq Stock Market investigated the drop and said it would take no action. “It could have been manipulation; somebody could’ve been trying to make things run the wrong way. Or it could’ve been panic for no reason at all.” Short interest in Dendreon, the number of shares that have been borrowed and sold in anticipation of a price decline, totaled 21.6 million as of April 15, more than a fifth of the number available for trading. Hedge funds own 35 percent of the shares, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “This time there’s a lot less leverage rolling around, but there’s still guys who made major, major bets against the data,” said David Miller, chief executive officer of Biotech Stock Research in Seattle. “If it turns out there were shenanigans, it doesn’t surprise me at all. There’s a lot of incentive to do that because guys were once again really short this stock.”

- Goldman Sachs Group Inc.(GS), the fifth-biggest U.S. bank by assets, took advantage of a rise in its share price today to sell 6.1 million shares, increasing the total raised in a stock sale this month to $5.75 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

- Honda Motor Co., Japan’s second- largest automaker, rose as much as 6 percent after the company forecast a profit for the current year on optimism the U.S. car market may recover. The stock added as much as 155 yen to 2,755 yen and traded at 2,750 yen as of 9:16 a.m. on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Other auto shares also gained.

- Europe’s economy will probably lag behind the U.S., and government debt in the region may outperform Treasuries, according to Pacific Investment Management Co., which runs the world’s largest bond fund. “In the Eurozone and the U.K. we expect very weak growth -- worse in fact than in the U.S.,” Andrew Balls, the head of Pimco’s European investment team in London, wrote in a report on the company’s Web site. “There is some limited room for gains in the U.K. and the Eurozone, while yields in the U.S. are likely to be range-bound for some time.” “We don’t expect rate hikes in the U.K. or Eurozone in the next one to two years,” the report said. “Central banks are signaling an extended holding period.”

- Taiwan’s stock index rose the most since 1991 and the currency rallied after the island allowed Chinese investments for the first time since a civil war ended six decades ago.

- Japan’s industrial output rose for the first time in six months and at twice the pace predicted by economists, indicating the economy may resume expanding as soon as this quarter.

Wall Street Journal:

- Apple Inc.(AAPL) is building a significant capability to design its own computer chips, a strategy shift that the company hopes will create exclusive features for its gadgets and shield Apple's work from rivals. The Silicon Valley trend-setter has been hiring people from many different segments of the semiconductor industry, including engineers to create multifunction chips that are used in cellphones to run software and carry out other chores. Apple could use the internally developed chips to sharply reduce the power consumption of its hit iPhone and iPod touch devices, and possibly add graphics circuitry to help its hardware play realistic game software and high-definition videos, people familiar with its plans say.

- Gettelfinger Motors. The mauling of GM’s bondholders reveals Treasury’s political hand. President Obama insisted at his press conference last night that he doesn't want to nationalize the auto industry (or the banks, or the mortgage market, or . . .). But if that's true, why has he proposed a restructuring plan for General Motors that leaves the government with a majority stake in the car maker?

- The top securities regulator in Massachusetts said he is investigating whether State Street Corp. misled pension funds by telling customers that funds that invested in volatile fare such as mortgage-backed securities were low-risk vehicles.

- General Motors Corp.(GM) confirmed Wednesday it will force some salaried workers to take up to three months off with partial pay as part of an effort to reduce costs during its expected summer shutdown of its car-making plants. The program, called Salaried Downtime Paid Absence Policy, states that salaried and executive employees could be required to take time off in one-week increments. During the time off, an employee's salary would be reduced to 75% of full salary. The program is in effect starting Friday. GM told employees that any required time-off at a 25% pay cut will not exceed more than 12 weeks in a calendar year. It could be mandated during periods when there is lack of work, according to an employee briefed on the program. For an employee asked to take time off for the entire 12 weeks under the program, the salary cut would amount to about 5.8% of total salary.

- Bank of America Corp.(BAC) shareholders voted to strip Kenneth Lewis of his duties as chairman, weakening the embattled chief executive as he struggles to steady the troubled bank and fend off criticism of his rocky takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co.

- The World Health Organization warned countries Wednesday that a global pandemic from a new strain of flu appeared imminent, as the number of ill continued to grow and the first death outside Mexico was reported in Texas.

- President Barack Obama said he wants to get the government out of the private sector as fast as possible -- but that as long as his administration is acting as a major shareholder for large sectors of American commerce, from cars to finance, he won't hesitate to shape decisions at those firms.

- Congress passed a $3.5 trillion budget outline for 2010, handing President Barack Obama a victory on the 100th day of his presidency and helping set the stage for a significant shift in national priorities. The new budget, which aims to reverse the Bush administration approach of limited government, would set up special funds to pay for sweeping changes in health care, energy and education. Democrats said the plan would cut the federal deficit-which is projected to total $1.2 trillion in fiscal year 2010 beginning Oct. 1 -- by more than half in five years. Republicans disputed the assertion.

- As of late Wednesday, a measure allowing judges to reduce the mortgages of homeowners in bankruptcy court, known as "cramdown," didn't have the 60 votes needed to pass a procedural vote in the Senate, where Republicans still have the numbers needed to block legislation. The measure lacks the support of some Democrats as well, amid opposition by community banks and credit unions.

NY Times:

- North Korea said Wednesday that it would start a uranium enrichment program, declaring for the first time that it intended to pursue a second project unless the United Nations lifted sanctions. Calling the Security Council “a tool for the U.S. highhanded and arbitrary practices,” North Korea also threatened to conduct nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

- In the devastating slump that has forced two of Detroit’s automakers to the brink of bankruptcy, the United Automobile Workers union stands to become one of the industry’s few winners. According to restructuring plans proposed this week, the union will have more than half the stock in Chrysler and a third of General Motors, meaning it will have tremendous influence, with the government, in determining the future of the companies.

Washington Post:

- Chrysler chief executive Robert Nardelli would be replaced by the management of Italian automaker Fiat under a bankruptcy plan that the United States is preparing for the storied automaker, sources familiar with the matter said. While the government is holding out hope that the bankruptcy could be averted at the 11th hour, the administration has detailed plans in which the ownership of Chrysler would be dramatically reordered and the company would receive billions more in aid from the United States and Canada, where the company has substantial operations, industry sources said. These governments would provide about $4 billion in new funds while Chrysler is in bankruptcy, with 80 percent of the funds coming from the United States and 20 percent from Canada, the sources said. As the company emerges from its reorganization, the United States would provide roughly another $5 billion, with more coming from Canada, the sources said.


- London-based think tank Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has turned up the gloom on the Philippines, saying in a report on its Web site this month that the economy may contract by as much as 1.9% from an earlier projection of 0.6% growth, as growth drivers such as exports and remittances suffer from the global economic crisis. EIU also projects Thailand to contract by 4.4%, Malaysia by 3% and Indonesia by 1.48%. However, it expects Vietnam to still grow by 1.6%.


- Lew Ranieri, the man who built the market for mortgage securities in the 1980s (and proud member of TIME's list of 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis), was very early in predicting that subprime mortgage lending was going to result in a really big mess. I first heard of about his gloomy views on the subject in 2007, but Michael Milken—who is moderating a panel with Ranieri on it right now at his annual hoedown in Beverly Hills—says Ranieri began sounding warnings in 2005. Well, Ranieri is warning no more: I'm actually very enthusiastic about housing. I haven't said that in five years. … Not only are we within shouting distance of a bottom, we are standing at beginning of an amazing brave new world. … Affordability has never been this good.

- Coffee company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.(GMCR) said Wednesday its fiscal second-quarter profit more than doubled as revenue grew, and it signed a distribution deal with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.(WMT) The company also raised its full-year outlook and shares soared 20.4% in after-hours trading.


- OK, it was a PR stunt. But it's still impressive that an mpg-obsessed team drove a showroom-stock Ford Fusion gas-electric hybrid around Washington, D.C., the gridlock capital of the Free World, for 1,445 miles on one tank of gas (video here). For those of you keeping score that works out to 81.5 mpg, nearly double the 2010 Fusion hybrid's government rating of 41 mpg in city driving.


- Fed says US recession appears to be easing.

- Sumner Redstone, executive chairman of CBS Corp, said on Wednesday that he thinks the U.S. stock market is at the start of a bull market. "I think we're in the beginning of a bull market. When a bull market begins, nine months later the economy turns around," said the media mogul at the Milken Institute, who said he felt like he had the vital statistics of 20 year old. "It was always tough, but today we are in the throes of something we have never seen in our history. It's clear in recent times the market is looking for a bottom." "The news was extremely bad on the GDP and the market went up. In a bull market, the market ignores bad news. Today, we ignored extremely bad news," Redstone said in a Q&A session with CNN's Larry King.


- The role of the City of London as one of the world’s preeminent financial centers came under attack for the second time in two weeks yesterday, this time from proposed EU rules for private equity and hedge funds. The EU wants private equity firms with more than €500 million under management and hedge funds with more than €100 million of funds to file detailed financial information with the Financial Services Authority. Private equity firms will also need to file figures relating to debt, risk and cash. If the European Parliament approves the proposed legislation, about 1,000 British companies – owned by private equity firms either headquartered or with an office in the EU and with more than €500 million under management – would be saddled with annual compliance costs estimated at about £30,000. The financial and business community said that the move threatened both Britain’s economic recovery and the City’s status as one of the world’s most respected financial centers.

China Daily:

- The nation's stimulus package has benefited energy conservation and emission controls with energy used to generate growth dropping further in the first quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said. Energy intensity, or the amount of energy needed to generate per unit of GDP, dropped 2.89 percent year on year from January to March. That compares with a drop of 2.62 percent in the first quarter of 2008. Overall energy consumption grew only 3.04 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier while the economy expanded 6.1 percent, the bureau said in a statement.

Late Buy/Sell Recommendations

- Reiterated Buy on (SLAB), target $41..

Night Trading
Asian Indices are +1.25% to +3.25% on average.
S&P 500 futures +.62%.
NASDAQ 100 futures +.65%.

Morning Preview
US AM Market Call
NASDAQ 100 Pre-Market Indicator/Heat Map
Pre-market Commentary
Pre-market Stock Quote/Chart
Global Commentary
WSJ Intl Markets Performance
Commodity Futures
Top 25 Stories
Top 20 Business Stories
Today in IBD
In Play
Bond Ticker
Economic Preview/Calendar
Earnings Calendar

Conference Calendar

Who’s Speaking?
Rasmussen Business/Economy Polling

Earnings of Note
Company/EPS Estimate
- (NYX)/.39

- (PTEN)/.14

- (STRA)/1.97

- (HOT)/.04

- (IP)/-.04

- (TBL)/.16

- (OC)/-.04

- (WMB)/.19

- (CMCSA)/.23

- (CAH)/.95

- (IRM)/.12

- (COCO)/.23

- (EXPE)/.15

- (MWW)/-.11

- (CI)/.90

- (DOW)/-.19

- (MOT)/-.10

- (EK)/-.44

- (VIA/B)/.25

- (K)/.79

- (APA)/.34

- (MXIM)/-.02

- (MORN)/.39

- (DLB)/.47

- (CEC)/1.30

- (QLGC)/.21

- (MET)/.33

- (ACS)/.93

- (IM)/.13

- (ATHN)/.12

- (BWA)/-.20

- (D)/.87

- (XOM)/.95

- (LVS)/-.02

- (MRO)/.39

- (DPZ)/.17

- (OMX)/.16

- (PG)/.81

- (GM)/-10.97

- (CL).96

- (CMI)/.25

- (MFE)/.48

- (MCHP)/.12

- (NEM)/.41

- (TRV)/1.31

- (CELG)/.43

- (DNA)/.89

Economic Releases

8:30 am EST

- Personal Income for March is estimated to fall .2% versus a .2% decline in February.

- Personal Spending for March is estimated to fall .1% versus a .2% increase in February.

- PCE Core for March is estimated to rise .1% versus a .2% gain in February.

- The 1Q Employment Cost Index is estimated to rise .5% versus a .5% gain in 4Q.

- Initial Jobless Claims for last week are estimated at 640K versus 640K the prior week.

- Continuing Claims are estimated to rise to 6200K versus 6137K prior.

9:45 am EST

- The Chicago PMI for April is estimated to rise to 35.0 versus 31.4 in March.

Upcoming Splits
- None of note

Other Potential Market Movers
The NAPM-Milwaukee, weekly EIA natural gas inventory report, (BDK) shareholders meeting, (AZN) annual meeting, (GLW) shareholders meeting and the (SCHW) business update could also impact trading today.

BOTTOM LINE: Asian indices are sharply higher, boosted by technology and automaker stocks in the region. I expect US equities to open mixed and to rally into the afternoon, finishing modestly higher. The Portfolio is 100% net long heading into the day.