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Thursday, February 19, 2009

ADVFN World Daily Markets Bulletin - Feb 19, 2009

US Stocks at a Glance

BEFORE THE BELL: US Stock Futures Point To Strong Start

U.S. stock futures on Thursday pointed to a stronger start, with traders looking past Hewlett-Packard's downbeat guidance after the lumps that the market has taken earlier in the week.

S&P 500 futures rose 7.9 points to 790.30 and Nasdaq 100 futures added 7.5 points to 1187.50. Dow industrial futures added 79 points.

Other asset classes showed signs of greater risk taking. The euro recovered some of this week's losses on fears over Eastern Europe contagion, and oil futures rose over $1 per barrel.

U.S. stocks closed basically flat on Wednesday, following the rout on Tuesday, as strength for defensive stocks helped compensate for losses from financials as a foreclosure mitigation plan by the Obama administration was announced. The Dow industrials rose 3 points, the S&P 500 fell to its lowest finish since Nov. 12 with a fractional point decline, and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 2 points.

"The homeowner bailout announced (Wednesday), adding flesh to the bare bonds of the financial sector package outline from last week, is big enough to make a material difference to the foreclosure rate," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

"That in turn would bring about a floor in home prices sooner than would otherwise have been the case. But you should be under no illusions about the ability of the plan to lift home prices: it can't, because the inventory overhang is so huge."

The economic docket for Thursday will include manufacturing data from the Philadelphia area, with markets on edge to see if that reading is as weak as a similar reading from the New York area earlier this week.

Weekly jobless claims, producer price data from January and leading indicators data also will be released.

On stocks in the spotlight, Hewlett-Packard Co. dropped 3% after it reported a 13% fall in fiscal first-quarter profit and disappointed Wall Street with its current quarter earnings estimate.

"Due to severe pressure on organic growth and unsustainable recent margin performance, we expect investors to increasingly question HP's medium-term EPS power," said analysts from Deutsche Bank AG.

LDK Solar Co. Ltd. fell 6% after cutting its fourth-quarter revenue forecast. Whole Foods Market Inc. jumped 16% as the supermarket chain's better-than-forecast profit, as well as annual outlook, beat expectations.

Sprint Nextel Corp. rose 3% as it narrowed its quarterly loss to $1.6 billion from $29.3 billion and said it's done writing off goodwill from the Nextel deal.

UBS AG climbed in Swiss trade as the $780 million settlement with the Department of Justice wasn't as steep as feared.

Most Asian markets ended higher Thursday, with exporters such as Toyota Motor Corp. lifting Japanese stocks and miners spurring gains in Australia after a three-session losing streak.

Japan's Nikkei 225 ended up 0.3% at 7557.65 and the Shanghai Composite added 0.8%. European stocks traded steady, with well-received results from Nestle S.A. and Reed Elsevier.


WORLD FOREX: Dollar Falls; Euro Bounces A Little
The dollar is down and the euro is up in Europe Thursday as investors fret about the U.S. government's growing debt positions but hope that the European Union will come to the rescue of ailing central and eastern European economies.

The yen failed to get any new direction from the Bank of Japan's policy meeting, which ended leaving rates unchanged and the economic outlook much as it was before.

Overall, market sentiment has improved slightly, with risk aversion backing down a little and investors showing more appetite for risky markets.

Although U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to help troubled homeowners is seen as a welcome development for the U.S. economy, there was little shift in underlying market sentiment.

"Since it will likely take time to make an impact, similar to the stimulus plan and the revised bank bailout plan, we expect risk aversion will remain and keep the dollar supported," said Geoff Kendrick, a currency strategist with UBS in London.

However, other analysts fear that this latest effort by the U.S. government to stop the economy from skidding any further into recession will only push the country's debt even higher - and provide a negative for the dollar in the longer term.

All the same, this and other negative news out of the U.S. economy, including steep declines in industrial production and housing starts Wednesday, failed to halt a relatively buoyant performance by stocks, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting a small 0.04% gain and the Nikkei in Japan rising 0.3%.

This lifted sentiment towards the euro, which analysts said was also helped by the possibility of a short squeeze, given the recent rise in short speculative positions in the currency, and expectations that the E.U. is looking at providing aid to the economies of central and eastern Europe.

The euro has come under selling pressure recently because of growing concern about these economies, which have close banking and trade relations with the euro zone.

The Bank of Japan's latest policy meeting attracted little attention in the end as the bank left rates unchanged and increased its buyback of commercial paper largely as expected.

By 1040 GMT, the dollar had fallen back to Y93.68 from Y93.80 late Wednesday in New York, according to EBS. The euro was up, however, at Y118.78 from Y117.66.

The single currency was also up at $1.2681 from $1.2550, while the dollar was a little higher at CHF1.1785 from CHF1.1770.

The pound started higher, rising to $1.4416 from $1.4227, but then fell back to $1.4353 after data showed that U.K. public finances are deteriorating even more rapidly than expected given the decline in tax receipts and the large government bailouts for two of the country's major banks.

Europe Shares

European Shares Trade In Tight Range

European pulled back from early gains to trade around the flat line on Thursday, as losses for drugmakers offset a strong advance from Nestle.

The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 index advanced 0.1% to 183.59, with losses from pharmaceuticals such as Shire , down 3.4%, capping upside.

Shire reported a 6% rise in fourth-quarter sales to $765.8 million, but that figure was below analyst forecasts. Net income fell 33% to $141.3 million. Still, earnings from Nestle , up 4.5%, were better received.

The world's largest food and beverages company raised its dividend after reporting a 69% rise in 2008 net profit to 18.04 billion Swiss francs ($15.4 billion) due to higher sales and asset sales.

Overall, the French CAC-40 index declined 0.3% to 2,865.72 and the U.K. FTSE 100 index fell 0.1% to 4,003.48.

The German DAX 30 index climbed 0.2% to 4,212.05.  Stocks were mixed in Asia, while U.S. stock futures were pointing to a higher open in the U.S. following a flattish end to trading on Wednesday.

"There's a pull between a pretty dreadful and not improving global macroeconomic environment, and stock markets which are pretty much on their knees in terms of valuation and sentiment," noted James Buckley, head of large-cap European equities at Barings Asset Management.

He added that markets will probably stay in a trading range, bouncing off November lows, until investors get some evidence that the huge amount of stimulus from global governments is having some effect.

Anglo-Dutch publishing firm Reed Elsevier (RUK) advanced 2.6% in London and 3.5% in Amsterdam. Its 2008 adjusted pretax profit rose 21% to 1.2 billion pounds, which was ahead of analyst expectations, and the firm also said that it expects positive adjusted earnings per share development in 2009.

Meanwhile, shares of BNP Paribas , France's largest bank by market value, rose 0.9%. The lender confirmed a fourth-quarter loss of 1.37 billion euros, but still plans to pay a dividend and said it was well positioned for 2009.

Also in the sector, shares of Switzerland's largest bank UBS rose 1.7%. It agreed to pay $780 million for helping U.S. customers avoid taxes, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

"The settlement in the U.S. tax case is what we have been waiting for. It is very positive for UBS to have closed off the case now as it will enable them to move forwards again and to start build up the reputation. The fine is less than we had previously booked into our numbers," said analysts at Vontobel.

In Paris, shares of French insurance giant Axa (AXA) fell 8.9%.  Full-year net profit fell 84% to 923 million euros and the firm warned 2009 would continue to be challenging, especially in life insurance and asset management.

WestLB downgraded the insurer to neutral from add after the results. "Full year results were slightly better than expected but clearly helped by one-offs, in particular asset management," the broker said. "We regard Axa's high dependency on asset management, and in particular life and health, as a clear disadvantage in 2009," it added.

Staying in France, shares of luxury and retail group PPR jumped 5.1% after it reported that 2008 net income rose 0.2% to 924 million euros, or 7.33 euros a share. A survey of analysts by Thomson Reuters was calling for earnings per share of 6.52 euros.

Asia Markets

Hong Kong shares edge up in weak turnover; China stocks lead

Hong Kong shares closed slightly higher in thin action on Thursday as a firmer close on the Shanghai bourse encouraged late buying in select Chinese counters, but losses in blue chips including China Mobile held the main index back.

"Investors are simply not convinced the market has hit bottom and as we close into the corporate earnings season there is even more reason to wait," said Y.K. Chan, strategist with Phillip Capital Management.

Among the out performers, Chinese power stocks notched up strong gains riding falling spot coal prices while Ping An Insurance rallied as investors cheered a strong growth in its premium income.

But heavyweight China Mobile fell 2.1 percent to HK$70.00 as the stock was sold down ahead of the index futures expiry next week. Europe's biggest bank HSBC fell another 1.1 percent to HK$56.10, still managing to stay above the 10-year low of HK$54.90 it hit in January.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index .HSI ended 7.36 points higher at 13,023.36 after opening down 1.1 percent. "The spreads between U.S. Treasuries and emerging market debt seem to have narrowed today so looks like the sentiment towards these markets is stabilising," said Alex Wong, director with Ample Finance.

Other major Asian markets were mostly higher on Thursday as recent selling pressure mitigated and the flight to safety, to U.S. dollars and gold eased.

Mainboard turnover shrank to HK$35.5 billion from HK$42.8 billion on Wednesday as investors stayed cautious amid recent reminders of the global economic gloom and financial sector woes.

The China Enterprises Index .HSCE of top mainland firms outperformed to climb 0.7 percent to 7,266.24 after the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.8 percent.

Chinese power producers rose as spot coal prices in China eased while industry watchers said that demand may recover in the near term with weak January data indicating a bottom for power demand.  Huaneng Power moved up 4.1 percent to HK$5.38 while Datang International Power gained 2.8 percent to HK$3.70. China Resources Power climbed 7.2 percent to HK$15.10.

According to data released last week, China's power demand fell 13 percent in January but the figure was likely distorted by the week-long Lunar New Year holiday which fell in February last year.

China Overseas Land Development jumped after Deutsche Bank upgraded the stock to buy as it expects favourable government housing policies to trigger demand.

The stock rose 3.8 percent to HK$10.52 after dropping nearly 9 percent in the last month. Ping An Insurance (Group) Co of China, the country's second-largest life insurer, rose 3.6 percent after it reported a 23 percent rise in its life-insurance-premium income in January to 13.31 billion yuan, from a year earlier.

Top Energy Stories Of The Day

Crude oil futures rebound higher as traders re-examine expectations for weekly U.S. government crude data due later in the day.

The majority of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries governors are opposed to a new output reduction being decided at a conference of the group in March, a person familiar with the matter tells Dow Jones Newswires.

Spanish builder Acciona has reached an agreement to sell its 25% stake in Endesa to Italy's Enel following months of negotiations and differences over the price and the conditions of the deal, a report says.

Russia's biggest oil producer Rosneft plans to use a large part of the $15 billion loan it secured from China Development Bank for refinancing purposes, a newspaper reports, citing the company's Chief Financial Officer Peter O'Brien.

Prices for solar-power equipment are plummeting in response to oversupply, providing a potential boon for local governments, utilities and others trying to roll out new solar-power projects.

Although South Korea's GS Caltex agreed a rare oil-products deal in Singapore's cash market this week, it doesn't seem to be a forerunner of a wider move by Asia's traditionally cautious oil refiners onto a platform dominated by trading houses.

Canada has ratcheted up its dependence on oil revenue, more than doubling its crude exports over the past four years. Now, the oil bust is pushing it into a deeper recession than many economists had expected.

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