Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News

Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News

by SA Editor Rachael Granby

  • Consumers to get new loan program. The Treasury and Federal Reserve are working on a new facility to boost consumer financing, and could unveil the initiative as early as today. Sources say the Treasury and the Fed will help fund new loans packaged into securities for sale to investors, using $25B-$100B from the $700B TARP program. The facility, which will be operated by the Fed, aims to increase the availability of auto loans, student loans and credit cards, but could eventually be expanded to include mortgages and other assets. Still unclear is whether there will be restrictions on borrowers, how the Fed will judge credit worthiness and how the government will guard against the misuse of distributed loans.
  • BHP abandons Rio bid. BHP Billiton (BHP) has dropped its $66B hostile bid for Rio Tinto (RTP), citing global market turmoil. BHP CEO Marius Kloppers said the deal would have raised BHP's debt levels and made it difficult to sell assets, and Chairman Don Argus added the board "no longer believes that completion of the offer for Rio Tinto would be in the best interests of BHP Billiton shareholders." The decision to withdraw is a major about-face for BHP, which had strongly argued the merits of the deal and had forecast a medium-term recovery for commodity prices. BHP had also considered asset divestments to ensure European antitrust regulators would approve the deal. (Timeline of the failed bid.) Pre-market: BHP +31.2%, RTP -30.9%.
  • What's next for Citi? Now that Citigroup (C) has received a multi-billion dollar rescue from the government, Citi's strategy for moving forward is under intense scrutiny. CFO Gary Crittenden says the bank has no need to sell assets at this point, and calls the fast-growing emerging markets franchise 'the core of the company.' (Previously.) Still, Citi may be forced to sell some businesses; the government has made it clear to Citi executives that it expects the company to continue to reduce risk and to seriously weigh more drastic actions, including breaking up the company. "This is a reprieve, but it's not a complete pardon," explained one source close to the situation. Citi also needs to keep an eye on potentially problematic portfolios not covered by the government's rescue, including the credit card business where defaults are rapidly rising and the overseas lending operations which is also under stress.
  • Big banks' credibility problem. The real losers from Citi's rescue might be other major U.S. banks who are increasingly facing a credibility problem. Citi repeatedly said it didn't need additional capital, and then accepted billions from the government, making investors warily wonder what other banks might be hiding. Similar claims of ample capital were made by Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch (MER) shortly before those firms were sold or went bankrupt. Among the big banks, much attention has been turned to Bank of America (BAC), whose housing market exposure has been heightened through its purchases of Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch. If losses continue to mount, its Tier-1 capital ratio could fall heavily, by some estimates to 7.15%. A ratio near 7% could spook investors and send the stock down, much like Citi recently experienced.
  • Goldman bonds take off. Goldman Sachs (GS) has received strong interest from investors for a sale of $2B-$3B in bonds it is issuing under a new government guarantee program. The bond offering is expected to be completed today, and is the first major sale with the FDIC guarantee. For investors, the offer is a win-win, providing the safety of a Treasury bond with a better interest rate. The Goldman bonds mature in three years and will yield around 3.5%, or about 2% more than three-year Treasurys. Citigroup (C) and General Electric (GE) are among the other companies that have signed up to sell the bonds as well, and some estimates expect around $50B in issuance per month until June's deadline for debt issuance.
  • OECD's U.S. prognosis. The U.S. economy has likely entered a recession that will last through mid-2009, the OECD said today, and recovery will likely be slow as consumers try to build up lost wealth by cutting back on spending. The OECD also said the U.S. needs to overhaul its financial regulation and supervision, and could need another fiscal stimulus package soon if economic conditions don't begin to recover. 2010 growth was pegged at 1.5%, up from 2009 forecasts of -0.9%.
  • JNJ's OMRI buy could be the first of many. Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) will acquire Omrix Biopharmaceuticals (OMRI) for $438M ($25/share), an 18% premium. OMRI's lead product is its fibrin blood-clotting pad, which controls surgical bleeding, and which it claims is superior to JNJ's Surgicel. JNJ is looking to expand its surgical-care business, and some analysts say the timing of the acquisition shows the company's interest in taking advantage of its cash-rich position to make additional acquisitions while markets remain volatile.
  • Exec pay controversy continues. Wachovia (WB), which lost $33B in the last two quarters, said ten of its top executives could be entitled to as much as $98.1M in severance pay once the bank is acquired by Well Fargo (WFC). A Wachovia spokesman said the actual figure should be lower since two of those executives have accepted positions at Wells Fargo and 'several others' are in talks. Regulators and Main Street bystanders have taken umbrage with executive payments on Wall Street, and have been pushing to rein in compensation packages.
  • Panasonic sets Sanyo price. Panasonic (PC) has offered ¥120 ($1.25) per share in its takeover bid for Sanyo (SANYY.PK), according to reports in the Nikkei newspaper. The offer was presented to Goldman Sachs (GS) and two other major Sanyo shareholders. However, Goldman is said to be seeking ¥250-¥300 per share, so an agreement between the two sides seems to be a long way off. Panasonic released a statement saying it has not decided how much to offer for Sanyo shares.
  • Axa axes profit outlook. French insurance giant Axa (AXA) cut its full-year profit forecast and called its 2012 targets 'increasingly obsolete' as the global slowdown continues. Axa now expects 2008 profit between €3.6B-€4B, down from August's prediction of €4.96B. Despite the downward revision, CEO Henri de Castries assured investors that the insurer can absorb further shocks and has 'absolutely' no need to raise additional capital. Shares -11% in Paris trading.
  • NRG rejects suitor, again. For the second time this month, NRG Energy (NRG) has rejected a buyout offer from Exelon (EXC), saying the $6.2B bid 'significantly undervalues' NRG's worth. (Previously.) Exelon is continuing to meet with large investors, hoping to accumulate enough shares to force NRG into negotiations. Exelon is also pushing forward with its proxy fight to elect its own choice of directors to NRG. Exelon's tender offer expires Jan. 6 and the company believes it can win 30-40% of NRG shareholders.
  • HP's Hurd sees growth ahead. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Mark Hurd said the company is gaining market share in every segment and is on-track or ahead of its integration plans for computer services provider Electronic Data Systems [EDS]. HP, which released strong earnings yesterday (see below), faces a 'challenging' market environment but Hurd assured investors that 'we're guiding fairly conservatively' on PC sales which should 'have an effect' across the company. HP's FQ4 earnings were helped substantially by its purchase of EDS and rising notebook sales.
  • Home sales fall. Existing home sales fell 3.1% in October to a seasonally adjusted 4.98M units vs. consensus estimates of 5M. "Many potential home buyers appear to have withdrawn from the market due to the stock market collapse and deteriorating economic conditions," said the National Association of Realtors.

Earnings: Tuesday Before Open

  • China Sunergy (CSUN): Q3 EPS of $0.05 in-line. Revenue of $119M (+6.6%) vs. $114.6M. (PR)
  • D.R. Horton (DHI): FQ4 EPS of -$2.53 misses by $0.65. Revenue of $1.5B (-48%) vs. $1.7B. (PR)
  • Vimpel-Communications (VIP): Q3 EPS of $0.27 misses by $0.07. Revenue of $2.8B (+45.3%) in-line. (PR)
  • Zale (ZLC): FQ1 EPS of -$1.43 misses by $0.48. Revenue of $364M (-3.4%) vs. $382M. (PR)

Earnings: Monday After Close

  • Analog Devices (ADI): FQ4 EPS of $0.49 beats by $0.05. Revenue of $661M (+76.7%) vs. $655M. (PR)
  • Atwood Oceanics (ATW): FQ4 EPS of $1.16 beats by $0.03. Revenue of $160.7M (+32.2%) vs. $156.7M. (PR)
  • Hewlett-Packard (HPQ): FQ4 EPS of $1.03 beats by $0.02. Revenue of $33.6B (+19%) vs. $33.32B. (PR)
  • Nuance Communications (NUAN): Q3 EPS of $0.29 beats by $0.04. Revenue of $261M in-line. (PR)

Today's Markets

  • Asia markets closed mixed. Nikkei +5.2% to 8,324. Hang Seng +3.4% to 12,879. Shanghai -0.4% to 1,889. BSE -2.3% to 8,695.
  • In Europe at midday, London +1.1%. Paris +1.8%. Frankfurt -0.1%.
  • U.S. futures: Dow +0.7%. S&P +1.1%. Nasdaq +0.8%. Crude -2.4% to $52.30. Gold -0.8% to $812.80.

Tuesday's Economic Calendar

Seeking Alpha editor Eli Hoffmann contributed to this post.

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