Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Watch

Weekend Headlines

  • Commercial Mortgage Debt Rallies as TALF Ending: Credit Markets. Commercial mortgage-backed bond returns are accelerating as the Federal Reserve ends support for the $700 billion market, showing growing confidence that loan defaults won’t derail the economic recovery. The securities, derived from debt on skyscrapers, shopping malls and hotels, returned 7.41 percent through March 12, compared with 2.55 percent in the fourth quarter, according to a Barclays Capital index. Top-rated securities are yielding about 3.03 percentage points more than Treasuries, the lowest spread since August 2008, according to Morgan Stanley data. “CMBS has been doing well on its own, and it’s not on the back of TALF,” said Simon, managing director and head of mortgage- and asset-backed securities at Pimco in Newport Beach, California.
  • Oil Traders Increase Price-Rise Bets for Fourth Week, CFTC Says. Hedge-fund managers and other large speculators increased their net-long positions, or bets that oil prices will rise, for a fourth week, according to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The wagers that prices will climb outnumbered those that prices will fall by 109,314 contracts in the week ended March 9, according to the commission’s Commitments of Traders report on March 12. “The best buying came again from managed money covering shorts and getting long,” said Peter Beutel, president of trading adviser Cameron Hanover Inc. in New Canaan, Connecticut.
  • U.S. Oil Rig Count Climbs to Highest Level Since 1991. The U.S. total rig count gained for the third straight week, rising by 11 to 1,407, with the number of oil rigs reaching an 18-year high, according to Baker Hughes Inc. The number of oil rigs rose by 10 to 466, the highest total since December 1991, as crude futures traded between $80 and $83 a barrel this week. Crude for April delivery fell 87 cents, or 1.1 percent, to settle at $81.24 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after touching $83.16. The price has gained 73 percent in a year. The combined oil and gas rig count reached a 22-year high in 2008, peaking at 2,031.
  • Iraq's Al-Maliki Wins Most Seats in March 7 Vote, Party Says. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki’s political bloc, saying it won the most seats in March 7 parliamentary elections, named a commission to hold talks with rival parties on forming a government, an official said yesterday. In partial results, al-Maliki’s State of Law group is leading in seven of Iraq’s 18 provinces, including Baghdad, the most populous city, and the major southern constituency of Basra, the Independent High Electoral Commission said.
  • Wen Says His Conscience Is Clear Over China Climate-Summit role. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao defended China’s conduct at the December climate-change meeting in Copenhagen, saying he skipped a leaders’ meeting because his delegation hadn’t been formally notified. “My conscience remains untainted,” Wen said at a press conference in Beijing today marking the end of China’s annual parliamentary meeting. Talks between 193 countries in Copenhagen broke down, failing to yield a binding agreement on curbing greenhouse gases. Wen, whose nation is the biggest emitter of the pollution blamed for global warming, said it remains “a mystery to me” why he received no formal notice of the leaders’ meeting, which included U.S. President Barack Obama.
  • ECB's Nowotny Says Governments May Face Threat of 'Debt Spiral'. European Central Bank council member Ewald Nowotny said that some euro-region governments may face a “debt spiral” if they don’t starting cutting their budget deficits next year. “The economic situation is still very tense and problematic,” Nowotny told Austria’s ORF television in an interview today. In 2011, governments have to start pushing down their budget deficits or they “can end up in a debt spiral and consolidation will become costlier and more painful. There are several countries in Europe that see this problem.” The euro has shed 3.9 percent against the dollar this year on concern that Greece’s budget problems will spread to other euro-region states.
  • Clinton Myth Spins Obama Toward Midterm Massacre: Kevin Hassett. in Massachusetts and the opposition of the American people. If the legislation does survive the gathering political storm, then it will present historians with a fascinating puzzle. In the 1990s, President tried to enact universal health care, and his failure wiped out the Democratic Party in the next election. In 2010, history may show, President It is looking more and more like the Democratic Party’s idea of health-care reform will be enacted, notwithstanding the election of Scott BrownBill ClintonBarack Obama won passage of health-care legislation, and his success wiped out the Democratic Party in the next election, if not beyond. How can opposite results have the same political outcome? The best explanation is that Democratic politicians swallowed Clinton’s spin about his first major defeat -- it was a failure of process, not ideas -- while voters didn’t. The fallacy of the Clinton spin is so striking in retrospect, such a gross misreading of what actually happened, that the movie version of Obama’s first year in office should be titled “Revenge of the Clintons.” Think back to the debacle that was Hillarycare.
  • U.S., U.K. Move Closer to Losing AAA Debt Rating, Moody's Says. The U.S. and the U.K. have moved “substantially” closer to losing their AAA credit ratings as the cost of servicing their debt rose, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The governments of the two economies must balance bringing down their debt burdens without damaging growth by removing fiscal stimulus too quickly, Pierre Cailleteau, managing director of sovereign risk at Moody’s in London, said in a telephone interview. Under the ratings company’s baseline scenario the U.S. will spend more on debt service as a percentage of revenue this year than any other top-rated country except the U.K., and will be the biggest spender from 2011 to 2013, Moody’s said today in a report. “We expect the situation to further deteriorate in terms of the key ratings metrics before they start stabilizing,” Cailleteau said. “This story is not going to stop at the end of the year. There is inertia in the deterioration of credit metrics.”The U.S. government will spend about 7 percent of its revenue servicing debt in 2010 and almost 11 percent in 2013, according to the baseline scenario of moderate economic recovery, fiscal adjustments in line with government plans and a gradual increase in interest rates, Moody’s said. Under its adverse scenario, which assumes 0.5 percent lower growth each year, less fiscal adjustment and a stronger interest-rate shock, the U.S. will be paying about 15 percent of revenue in interest payments, more than the 14 percent limit that would lead to a downgrade to AA, Moody’s said.
  • Phillips-Van Heusen(PVH) Said to Be Close to Deal for Tommy Hilfiger.
Wall Street Journal:
  • Google(GOOG) Is Poised to Close China Site. Google Inc. appears increasingly likely to shutter its Chinese-language search engine, a step that would remove one of the last major foreign players from the world's most populous and fastest-growing Internet market. A person familiar with situation said on Saturday that Google is likely to take action within weeks. Separately, Chinese authorities on Friday told local news Web sites that Google's Chinese site is likely to close and that, if it does, the news sites will be required to use only official accounts of the situation, rather than publish stories from anywhere else, according to a person familiar with the order. Google and Chinese authorities have been in talks about the extent to which the U.S. Internet giant will be able to operate a business in China if it follows through on its pledge two months ago to stop following government censorship requirements on its Chinese site, Those talks increasingly appear deadlocked, and Google's hopes for being able to operate without filtering results—which were always thin—have all but disappeared. On Friday, Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong, asked by a reporter about Google's plan to stop filtering results, said doing so would be "irresponsible" and warned that the company would "have to bear the consequences" if it violates China's rules. His comments reinforced expectations that the authorities will force to close if the company stops censoring it. Google's closure of would leave the Internet in China—which has about 400 million users, more than any other country, and is adding about 250,000 more each day—almost entirely dominated by local companies. That helps the Chinese government's efforts to control information, because it can more easily control local companies, but it means foreign participation in one of the fastest-growing parts of China's economy will be limited, and it leaves Chinese users increasingly isolated. A Google departure from the Chinese market would also send a message to other foreign companies that China is "a very tough environment to run a business," Mr. Goldkorn says. Some companies have decided not to enter the market at all: Facebook representatives came to China more than two years ago to assess the possibility of entering the market, according to people familiar with the situation. But the company never established a Chinese site and today, its international Web site is blocked in China.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Microsoft(MSFT) Workers Hide Their iPhones. Microsoft Corp. employees are passionate users of the latest tech toys. But there is one gadget love that many at the company dare not name: the iPhone. The iPhone is made, of course, by Microsoft's longtime rival, Apple Inc.(AAPL) The device's success is a nagging reminder for Microsoft executives of how the company's own efforts to compete in the mobile business have fallen short in recent years. What is especially painful is that many of Microsoft's own employees are nuts for the device.
  • Swing Districts Oppose Health Reform. Sobering Poll News for 35 Key House Members. Voters in key congressional districts are clear in their opposition to what they have seen, read and heard on health-care reform. That's one of the findings of a survey that will be released today by the Polling Company on behalf of Independent Women's Voice. The survey consisted of 1,200 registered voters in 35 districts represented by members who could determine the outcome of the health-care debate. Twenty of those members voted for the House bill in November but now may be reconsidering. Fifteen voted against the bill but are under tremendous pressure to change their vote. The survey shows astonishing intensity and sharp opposition to reform, far more than national polls reflect. For 82% of those surveyed, the heath-care bill is either the top or one of the top three issues for deciding whom to support for Congress next November. (That number goes to 88% among independent women.) Sixty percent want Congress to start from scratch on a bipartisan health-care reform proposal or stop working on it this year. Majorities say the legislation will make them and their loved ones (53%), the economy (54%) and the U.S. health-care system (55%) worse off—quite the trifecta. Seven in 10 would vote against a House member who votes for the Senate health-care bill with its special interest provisions. That includes 45% of self-identified Democrats, 72% of independents and 88% of Republicans. Three in four disagree that the federal government should mandate that everyone buy a government-approved insurance plan (64% strongly so), and 81% say any reform should focus first on reducing costs. Three quarters agree that Americans have the right to choose not to participate in any health-care system or plan without a penalty or fine.
  • White House Yet to Settle on Venue for 9/11 Trials. The Obama administration is keeping its options open on where to try the alleged perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. White House adviser David Axelrod, speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the administration hasn’t made a final decision on the issue yet. “Obviously there are a series of things we have to weigh.” He said it “has to influence our thinking” that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, citing costs, opposed holding civilian trials for terror suspects in the city. Attorney General Eric Holder last November announced plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and other suspects in New York.
  • EU Finance Chiefs to Weigh Greek Rescue, Seek to Avoid Paying. European finance ministers will work on still-secret plans to help Greece overcome its debt crisis today, while counting on the country’s belt-tightening steps to make a bailout unnecessary. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde ruled out an aid decision at the meeting this afternoon and tomorrow in Brussels amid hopes that 4.8 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in budget cuts will put Greece back on track to fiscal health. Investors doubted that Greece will tame Europe’s largest deficit on its own, pushing down German bonds last week amid concern that Europe’s largest economy will bear the bulk of the costs of a future rescue package. “The hope seems to be, we’ll let the Greeks take measures and hope the problem will go away,” said Andre Sapir, an economics professor at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles. “That is not a very reasonable view of the world. It does look likely that indeed Greece will need some resources.”
NY Times:
  • China Issues Warnings to Major Partners of Google(GOOG). The Chinese authorities have warned major partners of Google’s China-based search engine that they must comply with censorship laws even if Google does not, an industry expert with knowledge of the notice said Sunday. The Chinese government information authorities warned some of Google’s biggest Web partners on Friday that they should prepare backup plans in case Google ceases censoring the results of searches on its local Chinese-language search engine, said the expert, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation by the government.
Business Insider:
Hedge Funds Review:
  • Furor Over Sovereign CDS Shorting Could Impact AIFM. Concerns are growing in the hedge fund industry that the scapegoating of hedge funds over issues such as shorting of Greek sovereign credit default swaps will have a knock-on effect on the alternative investment fund managers (AIFM) directive.
L.A. Times:
  • Plenty of New Airports But Few Passengers in China. A construction spree brings flight service to some unlikely locales, and a hoped-for spurt in air traffic fails to materialize. It's less than two hours before boarding time but most of the staff of Libo Airport are walking off their dinner of spicy dog meat with an evening stroll around the parking lot. Others sit in a circle on a grassy median smoking cigarettes and marveling at a full moon. A security guard naps on a metal bench. A saleswoman behind the ticket counter enjoys a shoulder rub in the darkened terminal. "Can you at least turn on the lights?" asks a traveler carrying a bag of snacks. "I'd like to see what I'm eating." Handling just two flights a week hasn't fostered a deep sense of urgency for the 50 or so workers at the airport. On this night, a garage door-sized video monitor displays a single arrival and departure. This is not how things were supposed to be when the $57-million airport opened in late 2007. Local officials were so confident that tourists would flock to this beautiful, mountainous county in southwestern China that they made the terminal big enough to accommodate 220,000 passengers annually, and built a runway capable of handling a 140-seat Boeing 737. But only a few charters and budget carriers have established service here. A grand total of 151 people flew in and out of Libo last year. In the mad dash to expand China's civil aviation system, many new airports are lacking one important thing: passengers. Experts say up to two-thirds of the nation's airports are losing money. Some locations chosen for new airports have left even experts scratching their heads. Last year a facility was opened 13,000 feet above sea level on the steppes of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, where temperatures can drop to minus-43 degrees Fahrenheit. Engineers had to temper the concrete runway just to withstand the harsh weather conditions. Only 7,500 passengers used the airport last year. "When can they make money? We've got a long way to go," said Ping Wang, an advisor to the Civil Aviation Administration of China and co-founder of GCW Consulting, an aviation consultancy based in Arlington, Va.
  • Salvation Army is a Residential Real Estate Powerhouse. The charity, known for its image of sacrifice, owns houses in the U.S. with a total value of about $4 billion as of 2008. The homes are provided to officers rent-free in lieu of higher pay, it says. By day, Henry Graciani oversees a 54-bed treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts who come to him broke and hopeless. After work, he makes a quick drive to the $1.3-million Santa Monica home he shares with his wife and three children.
Las Vegas Sun:
  • A New Hit for 'Sex and the City' The idea: An over-the-top slot machine to play off cable smash's success. “Now that was fabulous, if I do say so myself,” Noth’s velvety voice proclaims. Gamblers seem to agree with Mr. Big’s assessment. IGT(IGT) has hailed “Sex and the City” as one of its most successful launches and its biggest technical achievement. About 150 casinos, many of them in Nevada, have at least one bank of these slots. That’s not as many as the all-time performer, “Wheel of Fortune,” yet more than many licensed brands can boast in their first few months. IGT has more orders in the pipeline.
Rasmussen Report:
  • Daily Presidential Tracking Poll. The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 27% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-two percent (42%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -15 (trends).
  • Dems: Time to 'rip the band-aid off'. The advice went out to freshman and sophomore House Democrats, blunt talk to help them through a tricky vote on health reform. "At this point, we have to just rip the band-aid off and have a vote — up or down; yes or no?” the memo said. “Things like reconciliation and what the rules committee does is INSIDE BASEBALL." The memo also counseled members’ staffs – especially those who might vote yes – to set up events during the Easter recess highlighting the reforms that will quickly become law. On a day when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked of calling the final, historic health care vote by next week, it was a chance for a top aide in Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s office to send out a mix of scheduling details, encouragement and advice to fellow staffers whose members are about to take the biggest vote of their careers. “I would have your Member’s schedule pretty clear for next weekend,” it read. “They will either be here or exhausted (or both.)” Pelosi told her members Friday to brace themselves for a climactic health care vote as early as next week, promising to stay in session until the landmark vote, people present at the meeting said afterward.
  • Moderates' Demand for Obama Wanes. Moderate House Democrats facing potentially difficult reelections this fall have a message for President Barack Obama: Don’t call us; we’ll call you. Interviews with nearly a dozen congressional Democrats on the ballot this year reveal a decided lack of enthusiasm for having Obama come to their districts to campaign for them — the most basic gauge of a president’s popularity.
  • Republicans Say Door Open on U.S. Financial Reform. A bipartisan financial regulation reform bill could still be worked out in the U.S. Senate, despite a breakdown in negotiations, key Republicans said in a letter obtained by Reuters on Saturday. The entire Republican membership of the Senate Banking Committee wrote to its Democratic chairman that they remain open to working out an agreement, but they want sufficient time to consider a new bill he plans to release soon.
  • Buba Opposes Backing EMF With Gold. Germany's Bundesbank would oppose any government initiative to use its gold reserves as backing for a European Monetary Fund (EMF), a spokeswoman said. German magazine Focus reported on Saturday that the finance ministry was considering the possibility of euro zone countries using their central banks' gold reserves to back an EMF. A spokeswoman for Germany's central bank said she was not aware of any such plans but the Bundesbank would resist them. She added that it was up to the Bundesbank to decide autonomously about the use of its gold reserves and not the government or the European Central Bank.
  • US Senate Financial Reform Bill Boosts Fed - Sources. The Federal Reserve would gain new powers over non-bank financial firms and keep much of its authority over banks under a new bill to be unveiled on Monday by the U.S Senate's architect of financial reform. In a turnaround for the central bank after months of public criticism, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd was poised to release a bill that leans heavily on the Fed to fix the U.S. financial system, sources said on Sunday. Not only would a new government watchdog for financial consumers be housed within the Fed, it would also retain much of its present authority over large bank holding companies and gain new authority over selected non-bank financial firms. Sources said the Fed would also continue supervising smaller, state-chartered banks now in the Fed system -- a change from an earlier proposal that would have transferred those banks to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. supervision.
Financial Times:
  • Shrink the Eurozone, or Create a Fiscal Union by Wolfgang Munchau. I was confused when Wolfgang Schäuble, German finance minister, proposed a European Monetary Fund. I had not expected this. Was it an attempt to deflect attention from the fast-approaching bail-out of Greece, as one close observer suggested to me? It does not seem plausible. Or perhaps this marks a genuine change in the German position? Had I missed something? When I read the whole proposal in detail, the fog lifted – or maybe my confusion just reached a higher level. I realised that the EMF is just a smokescreen. The real bullet in his proposal is that countries could leave the eurozone without leaving the European Union. This is not about helping countries in trouble. This is about helping them to get out.
  • A Frugal Policy is the Better Solution. Virtually all policy analysts agree that the path to renewed prosperity in Europe and the US depends on a credible plan to re-establish sound public finances. Without such a plan, the travails which have hit Greece and which are threatening Portugal and Spain will soon enough threaten the UK, US, and other deficit-ridden countries. In the recent duel of macro-economists, one camp has called for early budget consolidation, followed by further measures over five years. We agree. Others want more fiscal stimulus, delaying deficit reduction. We believe delaying the start of deficit reduction would put long-term recovery at risk. Such an approach misjudges politics, financial markets, and underlying economic realities. Blaming our predicament on financial markets, as some in the second camp do, ignores the awkward truth that governments have enabled, if not enthusiastically promoted, recklessness, through chronic deficits and lax financial regulation. Our predicament, in this sense, is a political crisis at least as much as a financial one. We can’t expect “credibility” by succumbing to temptation just one more time. What politicians like to present as saving the world economy from financial markets is in many cases simply responding to past errors while continuing to operate on a time horizon no longer than the next election.
  • Funds of Hedge Funds Keep Declining. Funds of hedge funds continued to shrink last year, losing a tenth of their remaining assets under management, despite improved investment performance. The average performance of funds of hedge fund groups with more than $1bn (£660m, €727m) under management was up 9.21 per cent by the end of 2009, but combined assets slipped to $625bn from $744bn a year earlier. Figures, from the InvestHedge Billion Dollar Club’s most recent survey are still an improvement on 2008, when assets dropped by a third.
  • Barack Obama's Approval Rating Drops to 46%. Presidenital Barack Obama yesterday delayed a trip to Asia amid falling approval ratings and grave doubts that his 11th hour attempt to push health care reform through Congress will succeed. Two leading Democratic pollsters yesterday criticised Mr Obama for being deaf to public opinion. Patrick Caddell and Doug Schoen, who conducted polls for former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton respectively, wrote in the Washington Post that the "blind persistence in the face of reality" of the president and his advisers ran the risk of "unmitigated disaster in November", when midterm elections will be held.
  • Kim Jong-il Keeps $4 Billion 'Emergency Fund' in European Banks. Kim Jong-il, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, has a $4 billion (£2.6 billion) “emergency fund” hidden in secret accounts in European banks that he will use to continue his lavish way of life if he is forced to flee the country.
  • France's Lagarde Bluntly Criticizes Germany Economic Policies. France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde delivered an unusually direct criticism of Germany's economic policies, saying in a newspaper interview published Sunday that Berlin should boost internal demand to help other Eurozone countries boost competitiveness and solve their fiscal problems. "Could those [countries] with surpluses do a little something? It takes two to tango," Lagarde told the Financial Times. "Clearly Germany has done an awfully good job in the last 10 years or so, improving competitiveness, putting very high pressure on its labour costs," Lagarde noted. "When you look at unit labour costs to Germany, they have done a tremendous job in that respect. I'm not sure it is a sustainable model for the long term and for the whole of the [single currency] group. Clearly we need better convergence."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung:
  • Otmar Issing, former chief economist of the European Central Bank, sees "huge problems" financing the proposed European Monetary Fund. Issing questioned whether enough money can be collected in reasonable time and whether it will be enough to help big member states. The transfer of taxpayers' money between countries would also be against the no-bailout clause, he said. The European Union should concentrate on supervising strictly the rules in place and sanctioning member states sooner instead of discussing financial support for the future.
  • Netanyahu: Probe Events That Led to Row With U.S. Over East Jerusalem. The U.S. has waged harsh criticism of Israel's announcement on Tuesday about new settlement construction - a move that deeply embarrassed the visiting Biden and imperiled U.S. plans to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu earlier on Saturday said he was surprised by the U.S. administration's public condemnation of his government over the building plan in East Jerusalem. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said the crisis appeared to be orchestrated by the U.S. administration, as Netanyahu apologized to U.S. Vice President Biden and believed that the crisis was behind the two allies. Netanyahu on Saturday evening convened a meeting of the forum of seven cabinet ministers to discuss the diplomatic tension with the Obama administration, and is expected to issue a formal statement about the matter at the start of Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting.
Weekend Recommendations
- Made positive comments on (BK), (LOW), (AKAM), (BWA), (VAR), (DPS), (GRMN), (JNJ) and (LMT).

- Upgraded (WMT) to Buy, target raised to $65.
- Reiterated Buy on (MDR), target $35.

Night Trading
Asian indices are -1.0% to unch. on average.
Asia Ex-Japan Investment Grade CDS Index 90.0 -3.5 basis points.
S&P 500 futures -.45%
NASDAQ 100 futures -.40%

Morning Preview Links

Earnings of Note
  • (SQNM)/-.25
  • (SPWRA)/.47
  • (AAON)/.37
Economic Releases
8:30 am EST
  • Empire Manufacturing for March is estimated to fall to 22.0 versus a reading of 24.91 in February.
9:00 am EST
  • Net Long-Term TIC Flows for January is estimated to fall to $47.5B versus $63.3B in December.
9:30 am EST
  • Industrial Production for February is estimated unch. versus a +.9% gain in January.
  • Capacity Utilization for February is estimated to fall to 72.5% versus 72.6% in January.
1:00 pm EST
  • The NAHB Housing Market Index for March is estimated at 17.0 versus a reading of 17.0 in February.
Upcoming Splits
  • None of note
Other Potential Market Movers
  • The Chile Feb. Copper Exports report, Roth Growth Stock Conference. UBS Asset Gatherers' Conference. UBS Life Sciences Investor Conference and the (VPRT) Investor Day could also impact trading today.
BOTTOM LINE: Asian indices are lower, weighed down by commodity and financial stocks in the region. I expect US stocks to open modestly lower and to rally into the afternoon, finishing mixed. The Portfolio is 100% net long heading into the week.

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