Thursday, January 31, 2013

Friday Watch

Evening Headlines 
  • Croatia Cut to Junk by Moody’s on Fiscal Weakness, External Risk. Croatia’s credit rating was cut to junk by Moody’s Investors Service, which cited a stalled recovery, lack of budget discipline and the nation’s vulnerability to external shocks. The Balkan country’s government bond rating was lowered to Ba1 from Baa3, joining Hungary and Ireland at that level, Moody’s said in a statement released in London today. Standard & Poor’scut Croatia to junk in December. Moody’s also changed the nation’s outlook to stable from negative, saying the risk the government’s fiscal position and debt will “materially deteriorate any further” is limited. 
  • Australia Manufacturing Gauge Fell to 3 1/2-Year Low in January. A gauge of Australian manufacturing fell to a 3 1/2-year low in January as the sustained strength of the currency outweighed the central bank’s reduction in interest rates to a half-century low. The manufacturing index dropped 4.1 points to 40.2 last month, the lowest level since June 2009, the Australian Industry Group said in a survey released today. The last reading above 50, the divide between expansion and contraction, was in February 2012.
  • Egypt Opposition Gears Up for Protest After Pledge to End Unrest. Egypt’s secular opposition pushed ahead with plans for protests today against President Mohamed Mursi, hours after joining forces with their Islamist rivals in pledging to work to stabilize a nation mired in violence. Exactly a week earlier, demonstrations marking the second anniversary of the Jan. 25 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak unleashed a wave of street battles that left over 50 dead. The rallies today may risk more of the kind of conflict that prompted Mursi’s secular and youth activist critics to band with the Islamists in backing an initiative they hoped would lay the foundation for a “serious dialogue.” 
  • Militants in Northern Africa Said to Pose Growing Threat. Islamist groups in northern Africa are trading personnel, equipment and expertise and pose a growing threat to potential targets there, including Western businesses and diplomats, according to U.S. officials. Three intelligence officials said that what they called cross-pollination among groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Dine and al Mulathameen have prompted U.S. agencies to focus more closely on the desert lands from Mauritania to Niger, especially in light of recent terrorist attacks in Libya, Algeria and Mali.
  • Biden Presses Senate Democrats to Support Assault Weapon Ban. Vice President Joe Biden urged Democrats to back an assault weapons ban a day after few of the party’s lawmakers championed the issue during the Senate’s first hearing on gun violence after the Dec. 14 school shootings in Connecticut.
Wall Street Journal: 
  • Chinese Hackers Target U.S. Media. Chinese hackers have been conducting wide-ranging electronic surveillance of media companies including The Wall Street Journal in an apparent effort to spy on reporters covering China and other issues, people familiar with incidents said. Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. said Thursday that the paper's computer systems had been infiltrated by Chinese hackers for the apparent purpose of monitoring its China coverage. New York Times Co. disclosed Wednesday night that its flagship newspaper also had been the victim of cyberspying. Chinese hackers for years have targeted major U.S. media companies with hacking that has penetrated deep inside some newsgathering systems, several people familiar with the response to the cyberattacks said.
  • Lingering Bad Debts Stifle Europe Recovery. Many Europeans are on the hook for unpaid mortgage balances even after losing their homes. And millions struggle to pay for apartments and houses that are worth far less than they paid. Data released by Eurostat on Thursday showed average euro-zone house prices declined further in the third quarter, dropping 0.7% from the previous quarter. Prices in the Netherlands fell 3.9%, the biggest drop in the euro zone, and prices fell 3.7% in Spain.
  • ObamaCare's Broken Promises. Every one of the main claims made for the law is turning out to be false. As the federal government moves forward to implement President Obama's Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services is slated to spend millions of dollars promoting the unpopular legislation. In the face of this publicity blitz, it is worth remembering that the law was originally sold largely on four grounds—all of which have become increasingly implausible.
Zero Hedge: 
Business Insider: 
Washington Post:  
  • Senate ethics panel reviews gift accusations against Menendez. The Senate Ethics Committee is reviewing allegations that Sen. Robert Menendez accepted inappropriate gifts from a Florida doctor who has flown the New Jersey Democrat to his estate in the Dominican Republic, a senior member of the panel confirmed Thursday. Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), the ranking Republican on the committee, said the panel saw reports of the Tuesday FBI raid on the West Palm Beach offices of Salomon Melgen, a Menendez friend and political supporter who is also in an $11 million tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service. That was followed by Menendez’s confirmation Wednesday night that he wrote a personal check of more than $58,000 to pay for flights on Melgen’s private jet to his Dominican estate — for a pair of trips there more than two years ago.
NY Times:
  • Doubt Is Cast on Firms Hired to Help Banks. Federal authorities are scrutinizing the private consultants hired by banks to clean up financial misdeeds like money laundering and foreclosure abuses, taking aim at a conflict-riddled, billion-dollar industry.
  • US looking at action against China cyberattacks. The Obama administration is considering more assertive action against Beijing to combat a persistent cyber-espionage campaign it believes Chinese hackers are waging against U.S. companies and government agencies. As The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that their computer systems had been infiltrated by China-based hackers, cybersecurity experts said the U.S. government is eyeing more pointed diplomatic and trade measures.
  • Korea becomes the red flag for Asia's currency war. South Korea's threat to impose a broad tax on financial transactions is the first sign of deepening concern in Asia that speculation of competitive currency devaluations is prompting investors to head for the exit. 
  • US seeks greater ethanol use despite efforts to cut it. Corn ethanol would get a larger share of the U.S. gasoline market under a government proposal on Thursday while ranchers, environmentalists and the oil industry aim to kill the renewable fuels mandate altogether. The Obama administration proposed a 9 percent increase in the so-called renewable fuels standard from 2012, in line with a 2007 law. Half of the 1.35 billion-gallon increase would go to corn ethanol and half to "advanced" biofuels that produce half the greenhouse gases of first-generation ethanol. Overall, biofuels would be allotted 16.5 billion gallons of the fuel market for cars and light trucks. The mandate reaches 36 billion gallons in 2022, with half of the mandate going to new-generation biofuels.
  • Wynn(WYNN) posts lower-than-expected profit, cites Macau decline. Hotel-casino operator Wynn Resorts Ltd on Thursday posted a quarterly profit that was below Wall Street's estimates as its share of the Macau market declined. Fourth-quarter profit, excluding items, totaled $118.2 million, or $1.17 per share, down from $194.4 million, or $1.55 per share, a year earlier. 
  • Canadians' possible role in Algeria attack of great concern to US. Signs that Canadian citizens were involved in the attack by hostage-taking Islamist militants on a remote gas plant in Algeria are of great concern to American authorities, U.S. intelligence officials said on Thursday. While Algerian authorities apparently have not yet provided Western governments with cast-iron proof, a senior U.S. intelligence official said, "We're taking very seriously the reports of the two Canadians' involvement."
Financial Times:
  • US banks squeezed as mortgage profits hit. US banks are suffering a squeeze on mortgage profits after a bumper two years, adding to pressure on the earnings of Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the other large lenders.
China News Service:
  • Wenzhou Pressures Banks to Not Call in Loans. The eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou may withdraw deposits from banks that call loans from companies.
Evening Recommendations 
ISI Group:
  • Rated (ZTS) Buy, target $30.
Night Trading
  • Asian equity indices are -.25%  to +.75% on average.
  • Asia Ex-Japan Investment Grade CDS Index 115.0 +1.0 basis point.
  • Asia Pacific Sovereign CDS Index 90.0 +1.0 basis point.
  • FTSE-100 futures -.18%.
  • S&P 500 futures +.29%.
  • NASDAQ 100 futures +.37%.
Morning Preview Links

Earnings of Note

  • (NWL)/.42
  • (XOM)/2.00
  • (TDW)/.42
  • (MAT)/1.15
  • (NOV)/1.44
  • (MRK)/.81
  • (LEA)/1.38
  • (TSN)/.42
  • (BEN)/2.38
  • (CVX)/3.06
  • (BRO)/.26
  • (CYMI)/.04
  • (SUN)/.71
Economic Releases
8:30 am EST
  • The Change in Non-farm payrolls for January is estimated at 165K versus 155K in December.
  • The Unemployment Rate for January is estimated at 7.8% versus 7.8% in December.
  • Average Hourly Earnings for January are estimated to rise +.1% versus a +.3% gain in December.
8:58 am EST
  • The Final Markit US PMI for January is estimated to fall to 55.5 from a prior estimate of 56.1.
9:55 am EST
  • Final Univ. of Michigan Consumer Confidence for January is estimated to rise to 71.5 versus 71.3 in December.
10:00 am EST
  • Construction Spending for December is estimated to rise +.6% versus a -.3% decline in November.
  • ISM Manufacturing for January is estimated to rise to 50.6 versus 50.2 in December.
  • ISM Prices Paid for January is estimated to rise to 56.0 versus 55.5 in December.
  • Total Vehicle Sales for January are estimated to fall to 15.2M versus 15.3M in December.
Upcoming Splits
  • None of ntoe
Other Potential Market Movers
  • The Fed's Dudley speaking, Eurozone/UK PMI data and the (STJ) investor meeting could also impact trading today.
BOTTOM LINE: Asian indices are mostly higher, boosted by automaker and commodity shares in the region. I expect US stocks to open modestly higher and to weaken into the afternoon, finishing modestly lower. The Portfolio is 50% net long heading into the day.

Stocks Slightly Lower into Final Hour on Global Growth Fears, Rising Eurozone Debt Angst, Profit-Taking, Defense/Energy Sector Weakness

Broad Market Tone:
  • Advance/Decline Line: Modestly Higher
  • Sector Performance: Mixed
  • Volume: Around Average
  • Market Leading Stocks: Underperforming
Equity Investor Angst:
  • VIX 14.28 -.28%
  • ISE Sentiment Index 133.0 +70.5%
  • Total Put/Call .85 -8.6%
  • NYSE Arms 1.07 +5.74%
Credit Investor Angst:
  • North American Investment Grade CDS Index 89.15 -1.27%
  • European Financial Sector CDS Index 146.40 +2.94%
  • Western Europe Sovereign Debt CDS Index 102.81 +1.92%
  • Emerging Market CDS Index 230.55 +.66%
  • 2-Year Swap Spread 16.75 +1.0 bp
  • TED Spread 23.25 -.5 bp
  • 3-Month EUR/USD Cross-Currency Basis Swap -12.0 +.25 bp
Economic Gauges:
  • 3-Month T-Bill Yield .07% +1 bp
  • Yield Curve 172.0 unch.
  • China Import Iron Ore Spot $152.5/Metric Tonne +2.07%
  • Citi US Economic Surprise Index -27.9 +2.9 points
  • 10-Year TIPS Spread 2.56 +1 bp
Overseas Futures:
  • Nikkei Futures: Indicating +17 open in Japan
  • DAX Futures: Indicating -5 open in Germany
  • Slightly Higher: On gains in my tech/retail/medical/biotech sector longs
  • Disclosed Trades: Covered some of my (IWM)/(QQQ) hedges
  • Market Exposure: Moved to 50% Net Long

Today's Headlines

  • Monte Paschi Rating Cut by S&P on Concern Losses May Increase. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA (BMPS), the Italian lender facing a government investigation stemming from money-losing structured deals, had its credit rating cut by Standard & Poor’s. Losses on the transactions “may be higher than initially anticipated” and demonstrate “a risk of management weaknesses,” S&P said today in a statement. The Siena-based lender had its long-term grade cut to BB from BB+ and remains on watch negative, which means it may be downgraded again. 
  • Spain Lifts Short-Selling Ban on Stocks After IBEX 35 Rallies. Spain lifted a ban on short-selling stocks as the benchmark IBEX 35 Index (IBEX) rallied and the country’s banks took steps to repair their balance sheets. Authorities won’t extend restrictions that expired today, the stock market regulator, known as CNMV, said in an e-mailed statement today. Short-sellers sell borrowed shares with plans to buy them back later at a lower price, a practice some politicians and investors blame for roiling markets.
  • European Stocks Trim Month Gain. European stocks fell for a second day, paring their biggest monthly advance since July, as companies from AstraZeneca Plc to Banco Santander SA (SAN) slid after reporting earnings. AstraZeneca lost 3.2 percent after the drugmaker forecast that profit and sales will slide this year. Santander and Royal Dutch Shell Group Plc both declined more than 2.5 percent as fourth-quarter earnings missed analysts’ estimates. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index (SXXP) retreated 0.5 percent to 287.22 at the close, as more than two stocks fell for every one that rose.
  • OPEC January Crude Production Falls to 15-Month Low in Survey. OPEC crude oil production declined to a 15-month low as Saudi Arabia reduced output because of waning demand from consumers, a Bloomberg survey showed. Output in the 12-member OPEC slipped 525,000 barrels, or 1.7%, to an average 30.479 million barrels a day this month from a revised 31.004 million in December, the survey of oil companies, producers and analysts showed. The December total was revised 430,000 barrels a day lower mostly because of the change to the Saudi number. "OPEC members are cutting because of concern about demand and a surplus in stockpiles and are responding to a lack of market interest," said Sarah Emerson, managing director of Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
  • Consumer Comfort in U.S. Falls for Fourth Straight Week. Consumer confidence fell again last week, raising the risk that the payroll tax increase that kicked in at the start of the year will make it difficult to sustain a pickup in spending. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index dropped to minus 37.5 in the period ended Jan. 27, the fourth consecutive decrease and the lowest reading since October
  • Business Activity in U.S. Grew More Than Forecast in January. Business activity in the U.S. expanded more than forecast in January, a sign manufacturing picked up at the start of the year. The MNI Chicago Report’s business barometer rose to 55.6 this month, the highest since April, after 50 in December. The median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was 50.5.
  • Jobless Claims in U.S. Rose 38,000 Last Week to 368,000. Claims for U.S. unemployment benefits increased more than forecast last week, nearly erasing a slide in the prior two weeks and reflecting the difficulty of adjusting the figures for swings at the start of a year. Initial jobless claims rose 38,000 in the week ended Jan. 26, the most since Nov. 10, to 368,000, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Economists forecast 350,000 filings, according to the Bloomberg survey median.
  • Troubled Companies Seen Winning Lifelines in ‘Fragile’ Market. While U.S. icons from Hostess Brands Inc. to Eastman Kodak Co. (EKDKQ) succumb to bankruptcy, credit markets awash with cash are allowing many of the riskiest companies to stay afloat, pushing off restructurings and raising the stakes for investors pursuing higher returns. Junk-bond sales soared to a record last year and speculative-grade borrowers raised the most in loans since the 2007 peak, while business bankruptcies fell 22.4 percent to 57,500 compared with 2011. Chapter 11 cases, where companies reorganize or sell assets, dropped by 12.4 percent, according to data compiled from court records by Epiq Systems Inc. At the same time, storied U.S. brands struggling with legacy liabilities and outdated products proved vulnerable.
  • Gross Says Credit-Based Markets Running Out of Energy. Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, said investors are increasingly at risk as global financial markets run out of energy and time. “The countdown begins when investable assets pose too much risk for too little return,” Gross wrote in his monthly investment outlook posted on Newport Beach, California-based Pacific Investment Management Co.’s website today. The record monetary stimulus of the Federal Reserve, triggering near-zero interest rates, has crippled savers and prior business models that were based on a positive real return, he said. Real growth of the economy has suffered in the process as net interest margins at banks fall, insurance companies struggle to make returns and pension funds are increasingly underfunded. 
  • Biggest IPO Since Facebook(FB) Tests Pfizer’s(PFE) Pigs and Dogs Strategy. Pfizer Inc. is taking its animal- health unit public in the biggest U.S. initial offering since Facebook Inc., a bet that growing affluence means more spending on caring for livestock and pets. Pfizer’s Zoetis Inc. is seeking to sell 86.1 million shares today for $22 to $25 each, giving the unit a market value of about $11.8 billion at the midpoint of the range, regulatory filings show.
  • InBev Sued by U.S. to Block $20 Billion Grupo Modelo Deal. The U.S. sued to block Anheuser- Busch InBev NV (ABI)’s proposed $20.1 billion purchase of the half of Grupo Modelo SAB it doesn’t already own, saying the deal would hurt competition and raise prices. Shares of both companies plunged after the Justice Department filed a complaint today in federal court in Washington, arguing the transaction violates antitrust law because it would eliminate the “substantial head-to-head competition” that currently exists between AB InBev and Modelo.
  • Immelt-Led Advisory Council on Jobs Allowed by Obama to Expire. President Barack Obama won’t renew the charter of an advisory council on jobs that he formed two years ago with General Electric Co. (GE) Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt as its chairman. The 27-member President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness was part of the administration’s business outreach at a time when the country was dealing with the longest stretch of unemployment rates above 9 percent since monthly records began in 1948.
Fox News:
  • UPS(UPS) Delivers Disappointing 4Q Results, 2013 Guidance. Hit by a $3 billion pension charge, economic bellwether UPS (UPS) said Thursday it swung to a fourth-quarter loss of $1.75 billion and the shipping giant’s adjusted profit and 2013 outlook trailed Wall Street’s expectations.
  • Hagel faces tough questioning from McCain, others during confirmation hearing. Chuck Hagel faced tough questioning from senators Thursday as he tried to convince at least five Republicans to back his nomination for Defense secretary -- but lawmakers, including fellow Vietnam War veteran Sen. John McCain, dug in their heels during a tense confirmation hearing. Another Republican lawmaker accused Hagel of "appeasing our adversaries." But McCain's position on Hagel could be a significant bellwether for his nomination. The two veterans once had a close relationship during their years in the Senate, but politics and Hagel's opposition to increased troop numbers in Iraq divided the two men. It was the troop surge in Iraq that became a flashpoint between McCain and Hagel during Thursday's hearing. McCain repeatedly tried to get Hagel to answer whether he was "right or wrong" when he once called the troop surge a "dangerous foreign policy blunder." 
  • Main Street Remains Pessimistic, Sees Little 2013 Hiring: Survey. While there's evidence suggesting the jobs market is slowly recovering, a large chunk of small-business owners remain pessimistic and expect the economy to remain stagnant or worsen in 2013, according to a new survey of 600 small firms. Most respondents also said they plan to trim costs, and 87 percent said they did not plan to hire additional employees.  
Zero Hedge: 
  • Short-Term Palliatives And The 5 Terrible Tendencies Of Government. The short-term palliatives we are currently pursuing go against everything a long-term oriented society should aspire to achieve. Today’s policies encourage spending over saving, reward the profligate over the prudent, and support the failing at the expense of the successful. The antidote now being dispensed puts us squarely in uncharted territory in which the risks are outside the range of historical experience. There is no obvious exit and no path to normalcy.
  • Syria warns of "surprise" response to Israel attack. Syria warned on Thursday of a possible "surprise" response to Israel's attack on its territory and Russia condemned the air strike as an unprovoked violation of international law. Damascus could take "a surprise decision to respond to the aggression of the Israeli warplanes", Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali said a day after Israel struck against Syria. "Syria is engaged in defending its sovereignty and its land," Ali told a website of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. 
  • MSNBC Criticised For Editing of Gun Hearing Video. MSNBC invited viewers Wednesday to draw their own conclusions about whether the parent of a Connecticut school shooting victim was heckled at a legislative hearing but didn't address criticism that it aired a deceptively edited video of the event. The NBC-owned cable news network found itself under attack for its editing practices less than a year after three employees of NBC or an NBC-owned station lost their jobs over the editing of a 911 call in the Trayvon Martin case.
Financial Times:
  • Chinese cities put tax heat on steel mills. Cash-strapped local governments in China have started demanding taxes from the country’s steel mills up to two years in advance, an unusual practice that highlights how desperate some cities have become for funds. Chinese mills, which produce nearly half the world’s steel, have traditionally been cash cows for local governments because of the tax revenues they create. But last year, as China’s economy slowed, profits at the country’s biggest steel mills dropped 98 per cent from the previous year, according to the China Iron and Steel Association. Losses reported by unprofitable mills increased more than sevenfold. Yet that did not stop municipalities in northern and northeastern China – also feeling the pinch from the economic downturn – from pressuring some mills to pay tax up to two years ahead of time, according to Zhang Changfu, CISA secretary-general. Unco-operative companies have found themselves subject to audits, investigations, and often big fines.
  • Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party won't support Chancellor Angela Merkel's plan for a fifth euro-area bailout for Cyprus, citing people in the SPD. Some lawmakers from Merkel's CDU, as well as FDP coalition partner, may vote against the plan.

Bear Radar

Style Underperformer:
  • Large-Cap Value -.31%
Sector Underperformers:
  • 1) Defense -1.05% 2) Energy -.76% 3) Homebuilding -.63%
Stocks Falling on Unusual Volume:
Stocks With Unusual Put Option Activity:
  • 1) STZ 2) STZ 3) EWW 4) DOW 5) XOM
Stocks With Most Negative News Mentions:
  • 1) DE 2) UNH 3) GT 4) HAR 5) RF

Bull Radar

Style Outperformer:
  • Small-Cap Value -.04%
Sector Outperformers:
  • 1) Networking +1.64% 2) Tobacco +.65% 3) Oil Service +.35%
Stocks Rising on Unusual Volume:
Stocks With Unusual Call Option Activity:
  • 1) LBTYA 2) TTWO 3) HSH 4) RRC 5) MPC
Stocks With Most Positive News Mentions:
  • 1) CTXS 2) T 3) WMS 4) BX 5) QCOM

Thursday Watch

Evening Headlines 
  • Weidmann Says Bailouts Could Weaken Even Strongest Euro Members. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said Europe’s current framework for bailing out distressed nations will eventually weaken even the single currency’s strongest members unless it is changed. “If things stay the way they are, the consequences of unsound policies will be too easily passed on to others,” Weidmann said in Berlin late yesterday. “Sooner or later the economically solid countries will be weakened. Liability and control have to be brought into balance.” Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has pledged more than 300 billion euros ($407 billion) in loans and guarantees to help shore up the finances of euro member states such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Weidmann, who’s also a member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council, has argued that policies including the OMT bond-purchase program come too close to the banned practice of financing states by printing money. Risks that have been shared via bailouts and ECB emergency measures have already reached a “substantial level,” Weidmann said. “If these risks rise, the culture of stability could be eroded as if we had explicit joint liability.”  
  • Bank of Italy Seen Vigilant as Monte Paschi Risk Surfaced. The Bank of Italy acted vigilantly in its oversight of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA (BMPS), with the discovery of accounting irregularities leading to a criminal investigation targeting previous management, a former senior Bank of Italy official who was involved in the inspections said. Pressure from the central bank prompted a shakeup of executives at the Siena-based lender last year and led to the uncovering in January of secret documents about some transactions hidden from regulators, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the probe is confidential.
  • Japan December Industrial Output Rises Less-Than-Forecast 2.5%. Japan’s industrial production rose less than economists forecast, suggesting that a recovery in the nation’s manufacturing sector is lagging a weakening yen. Output rose 2.5 percent from November, when it declined 1.4 percent, the Trade Ministry said in Tokyo today. The median estimate of 25 economists was for a 4.1 percent gain. Production fell 7.8 percent from the previous year.
Wall Street Journal: 
  • U.S. Is Preparing More Tax-Evasion Cases. The U.S. is expanding its crackdown of offshore tax evasion, preparing numerous criminal cases against suspected offenders, defense lawyers involved in the cases say. Four years after an agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland pierced a veil of banking secrecy by requiring Swiss bank UBS AG to turn over names of account holders, defense lawyers estimate that federal prosecutors are conducting at least 100 criminal investigations against suspected tax evaders. The moves come as the U.S. is turning the screws on smaller banks that may have helped taxpayers stash money in secret overseas accounts. On Monday, a federal judge in New York approved an Internal Revenue Service summons demanding still more records from UBS. According to court filings, the government now is focusing on U.S. taxpayers with accounts at smaller Swiss banks that didn't have U.S. branches but served customers through a UBS account in Stamford, Conn.
  • Risky Student Debt Is Starting to Sour. The number of student loans held by subprime borrowers is growing, and more of those loans are souring, the latest signs that a weak job market and rising debt loads are squeezing recent graduates. In all, 33% of all subprime student loans in repayment were 90 days or more past due in March 2012, up from 24% in 2007, according to a Wednesday report by TransUnion LLC. Meanwhile, the Chicago-based credit bureau found that 33% of the almost $900 billion in outstanding student loans was held by subprime, or the riskiest, borrowers as of March 2012, up from 31% in 2007.
  • Israeli Jets Blast Arms Shipment Inside Syria. Israel bombed a suspected shipment of antiaircraft missiles in Syria on Wednesday, according to regional and U.S. officials, in its most ambitious strike inside its neighbor's territory in nearly two chaotic years of civil war there. The early-morning strike in a border area west of Damascus targeted a convoy of trucks carrying Russian-made SA-17 missiles to Hezbollah, the anti-Israel Shiite militant and political group in Lebanon, according to a Western official briefed on the raid.
  • Some Unions Grow Wary Of Health Law They Backed. Labor unions enthusiastically backed the Obama administration's health-care overhaul when it was up for debate. Now that the law is rolling out, some are turning sour. Union leaders say many of the law's requirements will drive up the costs for their health-care plans and make unionized workers less competitive. Among other things, the law eliminates the caps on medical benefits and prescription drugs used as cost-containment measures in many health-care plans. It also allows children to stay on their parents' plans until they turn 26.
  • Slaying Fuels Anger in Chicago. The seemingly random killing of a 15-year-old girl who performed last week as a majorette at President Barack Obama's second inauguration is crystallizing anger over this city's high murder rate. The slaying of Hadiya Pendleton, as she stood with friends Tuesday afternoon in a park, came on a day that saw the city's 40th, 41st and 42nd murders of the year, according to police. It continued an uptick in homicides that began last year when more than 500 people were killed. The majority were gang-related shootings on the city's troubled south and west sides. Semiautomatic weapons are banned in the city of Chicago, as are stores that sell guns. But guns are available in neighboring suburbs, and gun violence here goes hand in hand with the city's gang culture and a membership police estimate at 100,000.
  • Threats Cloud Euro's Flight. With Europe's Economy Still Hobbled, the Currency's Surge Could Soon Stall. The euro, once on death's door, is on a monthslong tear, rising Wednesday to its highest level since November 2011. But even some investors who helped propel the currency above $1.3560 Wednesday say it can't fly much further. Europe's economy is still in the doldrums, they say, and a stronger euro could make the situation worse. And with central banks elsewhere racing to push down their own currencies, boosting the relative value of the euro, the European Central Bank eventually could be compelled to join them.
  • Henninger: Obama's Thunderdome Strategy. The president's goal is to make Republican ideas intolerable. Conventional wisdom holds that these unorthodox tactics are a mistake, that he's going to need GOP support on immigration and such. And by now it's conventional wisdom that when our smiling president transforms into Mr. Hyde he is merely channeling Saul Alinsky, deploying the tactics of community-organizing campaigns, the only operational world he knew before this. The real pedigree, though, is a lot heavier than community organizing in Chicago. Speaking last Saturday, Rep. Paul Ryan said that for Barack Obama to achieve his goals, "he needs to delegitimize the Republican Party." Annihilate, delegitimize—it's the same thing. The good news is that John Boehner and Paul Ryan recognize that their relationship with this White House is not as partners in anything. They are prey.
Fox News:
  • Facebook(FB) is mobile, but investors want more. Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the company’s earnings call on Thursday proclaiming that the social network “is a mobile company,” but investors may be more concerned about its spending plans.
  • Hackers in China Attacked The Times for Last 4 Months. For the last four months, Chinese hackers have persistently attacked The New York Times, infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees. After surreptitiously tracking the intruders to study their movements and help erect better defenses to block them, The Times and computer security experts have expelled the attackers and kept them from breaking back in. The timing of the attacks coincided with the reporting for a Times investigation, published online on October 25, that found that the relatives of Wen Jiabao, China's prime minister, had accumulated a fortune worth several billion dollars through business dealings.
  • Time to Get Off the China Stocks Train? Chinese shares are having their day in the sun, with the benchmark Shanghai stock index trading at an eight-month high on Thursday. The rally, however, may be close to running its course, some analysts say.
Zero Hedge: 
Business Insider: 

Read more here:
Washington Times:
  • New al Qaeda Threat. A jihadist website posted a new threat by al Qaeda this week that promises to conduct “shocking” attacks on the United States and the West. The posting appeared on the Ansar al Mujahidin network Sunday and carried the headline, “Map of al Qaeda and its future strikes.” The message, in Arabic, asks: “Where will the next strike by al Qaeda be?” A translation was obtained by Inside the Ring. “The answer for it, in short: The coming strikes by al Qaeda, with God’s Might, will be in the heart of the land of nonbelief, America, and in France, Denmark, other countries in Europe, in the countries that helped and are helping France, and in other places that shall be named by al Qaeda at other times,” the threat states. The attacks will be “strong, serious, alarming, earth-shattering, shocking and terrifying.”
  • Regulations are killing my business. These small businesses are being squeezed by local regulations requiring specific licenses. All are fighting back with the help of the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm.
USA Today: 
  • EU freezes 900 mln euros to Poland pending fraud probe. The European Union has frozen about 890 million euros ($1.20 billion) in aid earmarked for building Polish roads because of a suspected fraud by contractors, a Commission spokeswoman said on Wednesday. The suspension, which is likely to be only temporary, comes at an awkward time for the Polish government which is already dealing with a sharp economic slowdown and thousands of lay-offs in the construction industry. Poland's Deputy Minister for Regional Development, Adam Zdzieblo, said the decision was "completely incomprehensible" and based on questionable assumptions.
  • Isn't the Chinese property bubble obvious? Divergent views are emerging over whether there is a bubble building in the Chinese property sector, which has produced a string of aggressive high-yield issues this year, the most recent of which was Greentown China's conveniently successful US$400m bond this week. The recent hot flow of money into Chinese high-yield property bonds, much of it from private banks unable to earn a decent return elsewhere, had the look and feel of a sector overheating, and many have indeed traded down in secondary. If it looks like a bubble and inflates like a bubble, then it will ultimately pop like a bubble.
  • Electronic Arts(EA) slashes 2013 outlook as industry struggles. Electronic Arts Inc slashed its fiscal 2013 earnings forecast after a weaker-than-expected holiday quarter marked by disappointing sales of its "Medal of Honor" title, as the industry struggles with flagging demand. Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen said the earnings forecast had been adjusted downward, to take into account uncertainties in the seasonally weaker March quarter. "The economy hasn't gotten any stronger," he told Reuters in an interview.
  • Qualcomm(QCOM) beats street, raises guidance, shares rise. Qualcomm Inc beat Wall Street expectations for its fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue and raised its financial targets for 2013 due to growing demand for smartphones and high-speed wireless services. Qualcomm shares rose 6 percent in late trade on Wednesday as the outlook from the leading supplier of chips for cellphones wowed investors in contrast with sluggish demand at chip makers such as Texas Instruments and Broadcom Corp.
  • Sands 4th-qtr profit below view as Las Vegas weak. Casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp, owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, on Wednesday posted lower-than- expected fourth-quarter earnings as weak results in Las Vegas dampened a strong performance in Asia. But revenues topped estimates and the company boosted its quarterly dividend by 40 percent to 35 cents a share, helping to drive shares of Sands up 3.8 percent in after-hours trade.
China Securities Journal:
  • The China Securities Regulatory Commission may raise the leverage ratio for securities companies to help "boost profitability", citing Li Geping, secretary general of the Securities Association.
China Times:
  • China's Beijing city has submitted a property tax trial plan to the State Council for approval, citing an unnamed person close to the local finance and tax department. The property tax may be imposed in the city as early as 1H, citing the person.
Evening Recommendations 
  • None of note
Night Trading
  • Asian equity indices are -.50%  to unch. on average.
  • Asia Ex-Japan Investment Grade CDS Index 114.0 +4.0 basis points.
  • Asia Pacific Sovereign CDS Index 89.0 +3.0 basis points.
  • FTSE-100 futures -.25%.
  • S&P 500 futures -.10%.
  • NASDAQ 100 futures -.18%.
Morning Preview Links

Earnings of Note

  • (DOW)/.34
  • (TEN)/.67
  • (COCO)/.06
  • (MA)/4.80
  • (MDC)/.48
  • (ENR)/2.14
  • (WHR)/2.22
  • (AET)/.94
  • (AN)/.64
  • (PHM)/.31
  • (HSY)/.75
  • (MO)/.54
  • (UA)/.46
  • (ZMH)/1.49
  • (CL)/1.40
  • (CNX)/.23
  • (VIAB)/.90
  • (ADS)/1.80
  • (D)/.69
  • (CAM)/.95
  • (UPS)/1.38
  • (R)/1.10
  • (SHW)/1.16
  • (RGLD)/.43
  • (MCK)/1.63
  • (CB)/-.46
  • (PBI)/.51
  • (WYNN)/1.26
  • (EMN)/1.19
  • (BYI)/.76
  • (BX)/.46
  • (HGG)/.51   
Economic Releases
8:30 am EST
  • The 4Q Employment Cost Index is estimated to rise +.5% versus a +.4% gain in 3Q.
  • Personal Income for December is estimated to rise +.8% versus a +.6% gain in November.
  • Personal Spending for December is estimated to rise +.3% versus a +.4% gain in November.
  • The PCE Core for December is estimated to rise +.1% versus unch. in November.
  • Initial Jobless Claims are estimated to rise to 351K versus 330K the prior week.
  • Continuing Claims are estimated to rise to 3171K versus 3157K prior.    
9:45 am EST
  • The Chicago Purchasing Manager report for January is estimated to rise to 50.5 versus 50.0 in December.
Upcoming Splits
  • None of ntoe
Other Potential Market Movers
  • The China Official PMI data/HSBC PMI data, Challenger Job Cuts report for January, Canadian gdp report, weekly EIA natural gas inventory report, RBC Consumer Outlook Index for February, weekly Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index and the NAPM-Milwaukee report for January could also impact trading today.
BOTTOM LINE: Asian indices are lower, weighed down by industrial and commodity shares in the region. I expect US stocks to open modestly higher and to weaken into the afternoon, finishing modestly lower. The Portfolio is 25% net long heading into the day.