Friday, May 28, 2010

Today's Headlines


  • Spain Loses AAA Rating at Fitch Amid Deficit Crisis. Spain lost its AAA credit grade at Fitch Ratings as it struggles to cut debt amid a fiscal crisis that prompted the European Union to forge an almost $1 trillion bailout package for the region’s weakest economies. The ratings company cut the grade one step to AA+ and assigned it a “stable” outlook, according to a statement from London today. Spain has held the top rating at Fitch since 2003. Standard & Poor’s lowered Spain’s ratings to AA on April 28. “The process of adjustment to a lower level of private sector and external indebtedness will materially reduce the rate of growth of the Spanish economy over the medium- term,” Brian Coulton, Fitch’s head of Europe, Middle East and Africa sovereign ratings in London, said in the statement. “The Spanish government had been in denial from 2008 to early 2010 about the magnitude of the crisis so now you have consequences,” said Raphael Gallardo, who helps manage 500 billion euros ($615 billion) as chief economist at Axa Investment Managers in Paris. “Now with the acceleration of austerity measures, like the shocking cut to civil servant wages, they finally got real and measured the severity of the crisis.”
  • Bond Sales Fall to Least in Decade, Yields Soar: Credit Markets. Companies sold the least amount of bonds in a decade this month as concern Europe’s sovereign debt crisis will slow the global economy drove up relative borrowing costs by the most since the aftermath of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse. Borrowers issued $66.1 billion of debt in currencies from dollars to yen, a third of April’s tally and the least since December 2000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At least 14 companies withdrew offerings, including New York-based retailer Jones Apparel Group Inc. and theater chain operator Regal Entertainment Group. “There’s still a lack of risk appetite for company debt,” said Ben Bennett, who helps manage the equivalent of $125 billion of corporate bonds as credit strategist at Legal & General Investment Management in London.
  • North Korea Disputes Role in Sinking, Warns of War. A North Korean military official disputed findings of a probe that blamed his country for sinking a South Korean warship and warned of war if hostilities break out in the demilitarized zone or the Yellow Sea. “The noisy racket of confrontation with the DPRK kicked up by the group over the sinking of Cheonan is nothing but an act of precipitating its self-destruction as it is an undisguised declaration of war against the DPRK and a hideous criminal act of driving the inter-Korean relations to the state of war,” Pak said, according to KCNA. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao avoided any reference yesterday to North Korea’s role in the sinking of the warship in his first public comments since arriving in Seoul for talks with President Lee Myung Bak.
  • Credit Swaps Signal Sovereign Debt May Need 'Aggressive Action'. Credit-default swaps on the sovereign debt of Italy and Spain are heading for their biggest monthly increase amid investor concern that depressed demand for bonds of indebted nations will keep borrowing costs elevated. “Until we see clear signs that the free market wants to buy peripheral debt then the risk is that the package and the European resolve is tested one more time,” Jim Reid, head of fundamental strategy at Deutsche Bank AG in London, wrote in a note to investors. “Unless the free market makes this transition quickly, the authorities may soon be forced into more aggressive action.” Swaps on Italy increased 67 basis points to 209 this month and Spain rose 60 basis points to 226, according to CMA DataVision. Contracts on Greece traded at 670.5 basis points today, a decline of 47.5 basis points on the month, CMA prices show. The Markit iTraxx Europe Index of swaps on 125 companies with investment-grade ratings is up 26 basis points so far, and is set for the biggest monthly rise since October 2008.
  • U.S. Corporate Credit Risk Index Rises Most Since February 2009. A gauge of U.S. corporate credit risk climbed the most in 15 months in May as Europe’s sovereign debt crisis sparked concern that economic growth may slow, making it harder for companies to refinance. The Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index Series 14, which investors use to hedge against losses on corporate debt or to speculate on creditworthiness, increased 25.3 basis points this month to a mid-price of 117.4 basis points as of 12:16 p.m. in New York, according to Markit Group Ltd.
  • Copper Drops as Consumer Spending Stalls, Signals Slower Demand. Concern persists that China, the world’s biggest consumer, may take further measures to cool its real-estate market, Daniel Major, an analyst at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London, said today by telephone.
  • Senate Passes War Bill as Afghan Tops Iraq in Cost, Troops. The U.S. Senate approved a $60 billion war-funding measure as the conflict in Afghanistan has surpassed the Iraq war in annual cost and number of troops. Senators voted 67-28 for the bill, which goes to the House for consideration next month. The Senate rejected a proposal to require President Barack Obama to submit a non-binding report outlining when he plans to end U.S. involvement in the almost nine-year-old Afghan conflict. “The American people deserve an answer to the question: How much longer?” said Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who sponsored the amendment that was defeated 80-18. The bill “will add some $30 billion more to the nearly $300 billion we’ve already spent in Afghanistan with no end in sight.”
  • Hon Hai May Raise China Wages 20% as Suicides Mount. Hon Hai Group, the assembler of Apple Inc.’s iPhones, may raise wages in China by 20 percent after a series of suicides at the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics. At least 10 people have died this year at Hon Hai’s manufacturing complex in Shenzhen and police are treating the deaths as suicides, prompting Chairman Terry Gou to recruit counselors, install nets in dormitories and open his factories to the media. Shenzhen police and customers from Apple to Dell Inc. are probing Hon Hai’s working conditions after the deaths, half of which occurred in May.
  • U.S. Economy: Spending Pauses as Households Rebuild Savings. Consumer spending paused in April after growing in the first quarter at the fastest pace in three years as Americans used gains in wages to rebuild savings. Purchases were little changed last month after climbing 0.6 percent in March, indicating an early Easter holiday may have pushed demand into the prior month at the expense of April, according to figures from the Commerce Department today in Washington.
  • Leveraged Loans to Post First Monthly Loss Since 2008. A broad index that tracks the leveraged-loan market is poised to post a loss for May, its first negative monthly return in almost a year and a half. The S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index was down 2.33 percent for the month as of yesterday, after a streak of 16 positive monthly returns going back to December 2008, when it lost 2.95 percent, according to Standard & Poor’s.
  • Home Sales Set to Plummet in Markets Hit Hard by Foreclosures. New home sales in Phoenix and Las Vegas, two U.S. markets hardest hit by foreclosures, are set to plunge as a federal tax credit for homebuying expires, according to data from real estate researcher Metrostudy. A sample of subdivisions in both cities showed sales contracts for new homes “pulled back sharply in May and contract cancellations spiked,” Houston-based Metrostudy said in an e-mail. Would-be buyers canceled about 40 percent of new home contracts in San Diego in May, up from 10 percent in April, the company said. Data on new signings in that city weren’t immediately available.
  • Pelosi Says Ending Driller Liability Cap Is 'Worthy'. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress should consider eliminating any liability cap for economic damages caused by oil spills. “There is a movement afoot in Congress for that. Why have a cap?” Pelosi said in an interview taped for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” to air this weekend.

Wall Street Journal:
  • Greece May Yet Have to Restructure Its Finances. Even as investors grapple with the short-term economic impact of the European debt crisis, an important longer-term issue lingers in the background—the likelihood that Greece will have to restructure its debt. While a restructuring may not take place for another year or two, it's a move that Greece may be unable to avoid, many say, despite assurances to the contrary from officials at the EU and IMF. Restructuring is essentially a default, under which Greece would renegotiate its debt with bondholders, either lengthening its maturities or reducing the amount it owes, causing bondholders to take a loss. "At this point, it is very clear that restructuring is the only option," says Lena Komileva of Tullett Prebon in London. A close look at the Greek financial situation shows why some expect a debt restructuring within the next two years, according to Mr. Prasad, who spent 16 years at the IMF.
  • Goldman(GS) Seeking to Avoid Fraud Charge in SEC Deal. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has told the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company hopes to avoid a fraud charge as part of any settlement of last month's lawsuit against the securities firm, according to people familiar with the situation. It isn't unusual for companies accused by the SEC to try to negotiate a lesser charge in settlement talks.
  • FDA Weighing Penalties Against J&J. The Food and Drug Administration said it is weighing whether to seek criminal penalties against the Johnson & Johnson unit that made children's Tylenol and other over-the-counter kids' medicines recalled last month. Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA's principal deputy commissioner, told lawmakers at a hearing Thursday that J&J's McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit had a "pattern of noncompliance" with good manufacturing practices. He said regulators were considering such punitive measures as "seizure, injunction or criminal penalties."
Huffington Post:
Exclusive: US Probes Goldman's(GS) Timberwolf Deal, Alleged Victim Says 'Whole Thing Was Fraudulent Concoction'. The federal prosecutors investigating Goldman Sachs are focusing on Timberwolf, the infamous "shitty deal" repeatedly cited in a tense Senate hearing last month, according to people who have been contacted by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office. The probe raises the possibility of criminal charges against the storied Wall Street firm, which was charged in April by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with civil fraud for allegedly misleading investors about another subprime mortgage-related security called Abacus.
The Hill:
  • Carried Interest Tax Hike Delayed Until 2011. House Democrats will delay by a year the proposed tax increase on hedge fund managers, raising $17.7 billion over 10 years. The restructured tax extenders package, under consideration in two parts on the House floor Friday, changes the effective date of the carried interest provision from Jan. 1, 2010, to Jan. 1, 2011. The plan taxes fund managers' performance fee as ordinary income, at up to 39.6 percent, instead of the 15 percent capital gains rate.
  • Vol and Correlation Cause Equity Derivatives Pain. Hedge Funds and Dealers Reported to Suffer Losses From Recent Equity Derivatives Moves. Equity market trauma in Europe and the US has hit dealers and hedge funds through soaring levels of volatility and correlation on major stock indexes. Traders say the losses could easily run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Correlation has exploded. On the Eurostoxx 50, for example, realised two-week correlation blew out from 41.1% to 95.3% from the end of March to May 10, according to figures from Citi. It was at 84.9% on May 26, according to the bank. These increases have caused losses for banks and hedge funds that had been short variance and correlation in the run-up to recent moves, say dealers. “Eurostoxx 50 volatility has been particularly elevated, largely because of heightened concerns over Spanish and Italian names, as well as the heavy financials exposure within the index. We've also seen a few groups being caught on the wrong side of short volatility and short correlation positions,” notes Pete Clarke, equity derivatives strategist at Citi in London. The casualties are said to include market participants that went short variance outright, as well as relative value players that went short variance on the Eurostoxx 50 index while going long variance on other major stock indexes.
  • White House: Bill Clinton Spoke to Joe Sestak on Post. At the urging of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, former President Bill Clinton spoke to Rep. Joe Sestak about an unpaid position in the administration if he dropped out of the Senate Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, the White House confirmed Friday. The executive branch position would have been made available to Sestak under the assumption that Sestak would stay in his House seat, White House counsel Bob Bauer said in a two-page memo released Friday morning. Bauer asserted that the discussions were “fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.” In a statement Friday afternoon, Sestak confirmed the White House approach and said he’d firmly rejected Clinton’s offer. “Last summer, I received a phone call from President Clinton,” Sestak said. “He said that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had spoken with him about my being on a presidential board while remaining in the House of Representatives. I said no.”
Rolling Stone:
USA Today:
  • Poll Finds Anger Over Country's Leaders. Americans are increasingly optimistic about the economy, but that brightening outlook hasn't softened their outrage over the country's direction and its political leadership, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds. Two-thirds of those surveyed this week describe themselves as "angry" about the way things are going in the USA, the highest percentage in the decade the question has been asked. By nearly 2-1, they would rather vote for a candidate who has never served in Congress over one with experience. "We're just going to have to clean house and get people in who really care about the country," says Stephen Besz, 63, of Hokendauqua, Penn., who was among those called in the poll. He worries about the future for his son, an electrical engineer who has been looking for a job for 18 months. On Memorial Day weekend, incumbents in general and Democrats in particular face a hot summer. The poll finds a huge intensity gap between the parties: 50% of Republicans are "extremely motivated" to vote this year; 30% of Democrats are. "Normally I vote Democrat, but right now I'm not real sure," says Sherry Havard, 60, of Newton, Texas. "I just don't like what they're doing right now."
  • UN Experts Say North Korea is Exporting Nuke Technology. North Korea is exporting nuclear and ballistic missile technology and using multiple intermediaries, shell companies and overseas criminal networks to circumvent U.N. sanctions, U.N. experts said in a report obtained by The Associated Press. The seven-member panel monitoring the implementation of sanctions against North Korea said its research indicates that Pyongyang is involved in banned nuclear and ballistic activities in Iran, Syria and Myanmar. It called for further study of these suspected activities and urged all countries to try to prevent them. The 47-page report, obtained late Thursday by AP, and a lengthy annex document sanctions violations reported by U.N. member states, including four cases involving arms exports and two seizures of luxury goods by Italy — two yachts and high-end recording and video equipment. The report also details the broad range of techniques that North Korea is using to try to evade sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council after its two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is considering tax increases to help consolidate its budget.
Beijing News:
  • China Vanke Co. may cut apartment prices by 10 to 30% within three months, citing a sales agent.
China Business News:
  • About 40% of Shanghai's 10,000 real estate agents sold no existing homes in May and about 20% went bankrupt and closed, according to Shi Hongrui, the general manager of Hanyu Property.

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