Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News

Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News

by SA Editor Rachael Granby

  • Thanksgiving rally falls with a thud. After a five-day rally that spurred hopes of a lasting recovery, yesterday's market gave back much of the gains in one of its worst days ever. Monday's trading saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 7.7% to 8,149.09, the S&P 500 -8.9% to 816.21 and Nasdaq -8.95% to 1,398.07. The massive sell-off was spurred on by another round of negative economic news and fears that gains from the week earlier were unsustainable. As stocks fell, investors continued to move to longer-term Treasury bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, already at its lowest level in more than 31 years, fell to 2.719%.
  • The Great Recession. The U.S. economy officially entered a recession in December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), ending a 73-month expansion. (Read the NBER report.) The 1.2M drop in payroll employment this year was the biggest factor in determining the start of the recession, the group said, while job losses are expected to mount as the economy struggles into 2009 (latest cuts I, II). At twelve months, the current contraction is already longer than the last slump that spanned March to November 2001. The current recession could potentially rival the 16-month downturns that ended in March 1975 and November 1982, the longest slumps since 1945. The Great Depression, in comparison, lasted 43 months.
  • Bernanke gets creative. "Even if financial markets improve, economic conditions will probably remain weak for a time," Federal Reserve's Ben Bernanke said. "In particular, household spending likely will continue to be depressed by the declines to date in household wealth, cumulating job losses, weak consumer confidence, and a lack of credit availability." His comments, including calling rate cuts below 1% 'certainly feasible,' helped push long-term yields to their lowest in more than five decades. Bernanke also signaled his willingness to be creative with policy tools as more conventional approaches start to approach their limits, and mentioned possible purchase of Treasury securities or a potential move towards the 'quantitative easing' used by Japan from 2001-2006. (Read Bernanke's speech.)
  • DoJ casts a wider net. The Department of Justice has expanded its criminal investigation into foreign banks that provide offshore private banking services to U.S. clients. The inquiry began with UBS (UBS) and focused on potential tax evasion by wealthy Americans with illegal help from the Swiss banking giant. Sources say DoJ is now investigating HSBC (HBC) and Credit Suisse (CS) as well to see whether the two banks helped U.S. clients hide as much as $30B in offshore accounts that went undeclared to the IRS. The new investigations are still in an early stage and have not (yet?) focused on any executives. Credit Suisse -1.5% in Zurich. HSBC -6.4% in Hong Kong.
  • Morgan searches for deposits. Two months after converting to a bank-holding company, Morgan Stanley (MS) is looking to rev up its push into retail banking, including buying small-to-medium-sized regional banks. With $36B in deposits, the bank is already one of the 50 largest in the U.S., but "the external environment seems to be aligned for us to become bigger in this space," said James Gorman, a Morgan co-president leading the retail-banking push. Executives declined to discuss specific targets or timelines for purchases, but confirmed their goal to increase stable funding sources like deposits to 50% from 33% in November and 21% in 2007.
  • Big Three begging, round two. Detroit's Big Three (General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler) will make a second bid at securing a bailout today, presenting Congress with their individual plans for survival and trying to convince politicians that $25B in federal aid will be well-used and ultimately repaid. Sources say GM will offer to cut debt, combine U.S. brands and cut costs, while Ford will hasten a shift to cars from trucks and Chrysler will pitch the idea of an automaker alliance for fuel-efficient technology. Congressional hearings are planned for Thursday and Friday.
  • BoJ expands eligible collateral. Facing a deepening recession, the Bank of Japan held an emergency meeting today and decided to accept lower-grade corporate bonds as loan collateral. Starting Dec. 9, the central bank will accept corporate debt rated BBB or higher, and will open a new lending facility for commercial banks in January. The bank maintained its overnight lending rate at 0.3%. (Read BoJ's release on the new measures (.pdf).)
  • Aussie rate cut. The Reserve Bank of Australia lowered its benchmark interest rate by 1%, extending the biggest round of cuts since 1991 and bringing the target rate to 4.25%, a six-year low. The fourth reduction in as many months, Governor Glenn Stevens said the cut was necessary to "take monetary policy to an expansionary setting." New Zealand is likely to follow suit this week with a forecast 1.5% cut in its benchmark rate.
  • More late mortgages. According to leading credit bureau TransUnion LLC, delinquent mortgages are set to almost double by the end of 2009, bringing delinquencies to their highest level in at least 16 years. TransUnion predicts the proportion of consumers with mortgages 60 days or more past-due will rise to 7.17% in Q4 2009 vs. an expected 4.67% at the end of 2008. Credit-card delinquencies are also expected to rise, though not as sharply.

Earnings: Tuesday Before Open

  • Beazer Homes USA (BZH): FQ4 EPS of -$12.29 misses by $10.19. Revenue of $590M (-44.6%) vs. $593M. CEO Ian McCarthy said "conditions have continued to deteriorate," and the company will remain focused on "generating liquidity, reducing overhead and direct costs, and limiting investment in land and unsold home inventory." (PR)
  • Sears (SHLD): Q3 EPS of -$0.90 misses by $0.41. Revenue of $10.7B (-8.3%) vs. $10.9B. (PR)
  • Staples (SPLS): Q3 EPS of $0.42 beats by $0.01. Revenue of $6.95B (+34.5%) vs. $7.03B. (PR)

Today's Markets

  • Asia markets closed broadly down. Nikkei -6.35% to 7,864. Hang Seng -5.0% to 13,406. Shanghai -0.3% to 1,890. BSE -1.1% to 8,739.
  • In Europe at midday, London +1.6%. Paris +1.2%. Frankfurt +2.6%.
  • U.S. futures: Dow +2.2%. S&P +2.4%. Nasdaq +2.5%. Crude -0.2% to $49.19. Gold -0.1% to $775.80.

Tuesday's Economic Calendar

Seeking Alpha editor Eli Hoffmann contributed to this post.

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