Top Stories
Comcast to buy out GE’s NBC stake for $16.7B. Comcast (CMCSA) has agreed to acquire GE’s (GE) 49% stake in NBC Universal for $16.7B in a deal that will give the cable operator full control of the entertainment company. Comcast is also purchasing related properties, including NBC’s floors at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York, for $1.4B. GE expects a pretax gain from the sale of $1B, although this will be offset by restructuring. The conglomerate also plans to buy back $10B worth of shares in 2013.

Stock impact of State of Union seen muted. Stocks aren’t expected to react much to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, as many of his proposals aren’t seen getting through the House, while he did little to indicate that a deal is near to avert looming automatic spending cuts. Obama’s initiatives include investing $50B on infrastructure and raising the minimum wage 24% to $9 an hour. He also wants to launch free-trade talks with the EU and he announced an executive order to protect infrastructure from cyber-attacks.

WellPoint hires former Trinity Health CEO as new boss. WellPoint (WLP) has named Joseph Swedish as its new CEO to replace interim boss John Cannon, who will maintain his old job as EVP of Legal & Public Affairs. Swedish is the CEO of Trinity Health, which he helped build into a $9B health system with 47 hospitals in 10 states. WellPoint also reaffirmed its full-year 2013 guidance. Shares fell 1.15% in AH trading.

Top Stock News
Global cell phone sales drop for first time in three years. Worldwide mobile phone sales slipped 1.7% to 1.75B units in 2012, the first decline since 2009, as demand for feature phones fell. "Tough economic conditions, shifting consumer preferences, and intense market competition weakened the worldwide mobile phone market," Gartner says. However, Q4 smartphone sales jumped 38.3% to 207.7M, with Samsung (SSNLF.PK) and Apple (AAPL) increasing their market share to 52% from 46.4% in Q3. Samsung was also the top overall vendor of handsets.

Gartner: Galaxy virtually a "synonym for Android." Android extended its smartphone dominance in Q4, Gartner estimates, as its market share rose to 69.7% from 51.3% in 2011 while that of Apple’s (AAPL) iOS declined to 20.9% from 23.6%. However, the news may not be so good for Google (GOOG): "The Android brand is being overshadowed by Samsung’s brand, with the Galaxy name nearly a synonym for Android phones in consumers’ mind share," says Gartner.

ING Q4 net profit +20%, to cut 2,400 more jobs. ING’s (ING) Q4 net profit climbed 20% to €1.43B but missed forecasts, with the results affected by €643M in special items, mainly related to restructuring, and a €175M Dutch bank tax. ING plans to axe 2,400 jobs as part of a program to reduce annual costs by €1B by 2015. The job losses add to cuts of 2,350 announced in November, and more could be on the way – CFO Patrick Flynn said the bank needs 7,500 fewer staff. Shares were -1.5% premarket.

Analysts hoping for positive guidance from Cisco. Cisco’s (CSCO) FQ2 earnings are due out after the bell, with analysts expecting that EPS edged up to $0.48 from $0.47 and revenue 4.7% to $12.06B. Raymond James and Citi issued bullish notes on the company last week, with both expecting Cisco to possibly issue favorable FQ3 guidance. RJ said its checks suggest "a stabilizing environment," and it’s pleased with the company’s growing focus on software.

Legg Mason to give interim CEO the job on permanent basis. Legg Mason (LM) will reportedly appoint interim CEO Joseph Sullivan to the job permanently, with an announcement expected today. Sullivan has been the acting chief since Mark Fetting quit in October. Legg Mason is also expected to name Jennison Associates Chairman Dennis Kass to the board as it seeks to bring in institutional asset management expertise and stop investor outflows.

Intel hires recruitment firm for CEO search. Although Paul Otellini has said his replacement as Intel’s (INTC) CEO will probably be an internal hire, the company has tapped recruiting firm Spencer Stuart to help find its next top boss, sources tell Bloomberg. Then again, other sources claim that COO Brian Krzanich, CFO Stacy Smith, and software chief Renee James – named EVPs the day Intel announced Otellini would retire in May – are in the running.

Top Economic & Other News
FHA believes it can escape taxpayer rescue. The Federal Housing Administration should be able to avoid a first-ever bailout, Commissioner Carol Galante is due to tell a House panel today. The FHA plans to take further steps to avoid foreclosures and increase the amount it charges borrowers to insure their loans against default, which should be enough to offset any shortfall. In November, an independent actuary said the FHA could need aid of up to $16.3B.

Eurozone industrial output provides hope. Eurozone industrial production rose for the first time in four months in December, increasing 0.7% on month vs -0.7% in November and consensus of +0.2%. The numbers provide hope that the eurozone could be climbing out of its recession, although it’s worth pointing out that output dropped 2.4% on year.

Iranian oil exports, output fall as West tightens sanctions. Iran’s oil exports may have dropped to below 1M bpd in January after a mini-rebound to 1.56M bpd in December, the International Energy Agency estimates, with the latest fall coming due to reduced purchases from China and South Korea as the West tightens sanctions even further. Iran’s output fell 50,000 bpd to under a three-decades low of 2.65M bpd, and the IEA forecasts even more declines.

Fracking in New York could be held up for months. New York state’s decision to lift its ban on fracking faces further delay after officials conducting a key health impact study asked for more time. The move will push back the publication of the state’s environmental report, which in turn will delay the drafting of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s drilling regulations, possibly forcing a re-start of the regulatory process. That could hold up the process for months.

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Today’s Markets:
In Asia, Japan -1% to 11251. Hong Kong, China closed. India +0.2% to 19608.
In Europe, at midday, London -0.1%. Paris flat. Frankfurt +0.4%.
Futures at 7:00: Dow +0.15%. S&P +0.15%. Nasdaq +0.2%. Crude +0.15% to $97.69. Gold -0.1% to $1647.60.

Today’s economic calendar:
7:00 MBA Mortgage Applications
8:30 Import/Export Prices
8:30 Retail Sales
10:00 Business Inventories
10:30 EIA Petroleum Inventories
11:10 Fed’s Bullard: U.S. Economic and Monetary Policy
1:00 PM Results of $24B, 10-Year Note Auction

Notable earnings before today’s open: ASPS, AVEO, CPN, DE, DF, DPS, DUK, EZCH, FBN, H, HSP, LO, PES, PRLB, TLM, TRI, VG, WCG, WFR


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