Eurozone inflation drops further away from ECB’s target. As expected, eurozone inflation dropped to an annual rate of 1.7% in March from 1.8% in February, falling further away from the ECB’s target of just under 2%. Given the fairly poor state of the eurozone economy, the decline in prices could provide scope for the ECB to ease monetary policy further when officials meet tomorrow, although it’s not expected to cut interest rates from the current level of 0.75%.
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DJIA, S&P eye further highs. The Dow Jones and the S&P 500 look set to add to their record finishes yesterday, with U.S. stock futures higher in pre-market trading despite shares in Europe falling. The continued bull run in the U.S. came as health insurers rallied on positive Medicare reimbursement news and as U.S. factory orders rose in February. ADP is due to issue its March report today, with economists expecting that private payrolls rose by 215,000 vs 198,000 in February.
Top Stock News
Big Pharma eyes $5B Ache Laboratorios. Pfizer (PFE), Abbott Labs (ABT) and Novartis (NVS) are reportedly preparing to enter second-round bids for Brazil’s Ache Laboratorios Farmaceuticos in an auction that may value the group at over $5B. The offers are due in the second half of April, but divisions among certain families controlling the company still remain, fomenting uncertainty as to whether the deal will go ahead.
Verizon shoots down Vodafone speculation. Vodafone (VOD) shares were -3.6% premarket after Verizon (VZ) yesterday said it doesn’t "have any intention to merge with or make an offer for Vodafone (VOD), whether alone or in conjunction with others." Verizon was responding to an FT report that it could join AT&T (T) in a $245B breakup bid for the U.K. operator. Verizon reiterated that it "would be a willing purchaser" of Vodafone’s 45% stake in Verizon Wireless, but that’s pretty well-known.
Wells Fargo’s mortgage gamble going well – so far. Wells Fargo (WFC) is enjoying the benefits of charging forward in the mortgage market while its rivals have retreated, with the bank accounting for 28.8% of all home loans issued last year as "production" hit a record $524B. The strategy has brought massive profits, although questions are being asked about what Wells will do once the refinancing boom, which has driven its growth, drops off.
Las Vegas Sands faces first of two major lawsuit trials. Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is due in court today for opening statements in the first of two trials over claims that the casino operator reneged on agreements it made when it was trying to win a gambling license in Macau. Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen is seeking $328M for his role in helping LVS obtain the permit, while the company faces claims of up to $376M in the other lawsuit.
JCP CEO suffers massive fall in pay. J.C. Penney (JCP) CEO Ron Johnson’s compensation fell sharply last year as the company struggled to get its footing. The absence of stock awards meant Johnson made only $1.9M in 2012, a far cry from the $53.3M he received a year earlier. Meanwhile, Chevron (CVX) has cut the annual bonus of CEO John Watson by 13% to $3.5M following a series of accidents last year, although it increased his base salary by $100,000 to $1.8M after the company’s strong financial performance in 2012.
BP puts $1.5B U.S. wind-power ops on the block. BP (BP) has put its U.S. wind-power business up for sale in a deal that could reportedly bring in $1.5B. The move will add to the $38B of assets that BP has been selling to help pay for the fallout from the Gulf oil spill. It also represents a further retreat for big oil companies from renewable energy. The wind-power business includes 16 farms in nine states and is among the biggest in the country.
SEC OKs disclosure on social media. The SEC has let Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings off the hook for last July’s Facebook post about the company’s monthly streaming activity. The agency, which had sent Netflix a Wells notice in December, said it’s OK for companies to "announce key information" via social media, provided "investors have been alerted about which social media will be used to disseminate such information."
Tech firms file for IPOs. It was a busy day for tech IPO filings yesterday, with white-hot analytics software vendor Tableau saying it plans to raise $150M under the PR-friendly symbol DATA. Cloud marketing automation/analytics software vendor Marketo filed for a $75M IPO under the symbol MKTO.
Top Economic & Other News
Kuroda holds first meeting as BOJ governor. Haruhiko Kuroda has been chairing his first board meeting as the Governor of the Bank of Japan, with expectations high that the BOJ will push ahead with more powerful easing. However, prior to the two-day meeting, which ends tomorrow, Kuroda was reportedly finding it difficult to build a consensus about how far the bank should go. Kuroda might be able to force through his ideas but he risks dividing the board.
"Agg" bond index drops in Q1 for first time in seven years. Investors appear to be turning away from high-quality fixed income, with the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index suffering its first Q1 decline in seven years. The year-to-date performance of the "Agg" index "shows investors are becoming braver gamblers, betting that gains in the labor and housing markets will finally prompt rising rates and that the Fed will reduce its debt purchases," writes the WSJ. Treasuries comprise 37% of the index.
Australia extends Stevens’ term as RBA chief. Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens has been reappointed for another three years ahead of the end of his first seven-year term in September. Since taking on the role in 2006, Stevens helped Australia avoid recession during the global slump of 2008-2009 and kept inflation in check. Stevens is "widely seen as a strong central bank governor from a global perspective," says former RBA economist Paul Bloxham.
Court tells holdouts to respond to Argentina’s bond offer. A U.S. appeals court yesterday ordered holdout creditors to respond to Argentina’s proposal to offer them restructured debt that either discounted the original bonds’ face value or extended the final payout years into the future. Argentina had been trying to avoid returning the full amount, sparking fears it could default, as it did in 2001.
In Asia, Japan +3% to 12362.2. Hong Kong -0.1% to 22337. China -0.1% to 2225. India -1.3% to 18802.
In Europe, at midday, London -0.4%. Paris -0.5%. Frankfurt -0.2%.
Futures at 7:00: Dow +0.1%. S&P +0.1%. Nasdaq +0.1%. Crude -0.5% to $96.73. Gold -0.3% to $1569.80.
Today’s economic calendar:
7:00 MBA Mortgage Applications
8:15 ADP Jobs Report
10:00 ISM Non-Manufacturing Index
10:30 EIA Petroleum Inventories
2:30 PM Fed’s Williams: Monetary Policy
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