Frontrunning: February 4

  • Euro Tremors Risk Market Respite on Spain-Italy, Banks (Bloomberg)
  • Obama Says U.S. Needs Revenue Along With Spending Cuts (Bloomberg
  • China Regulators Moved to Restrain Lending (WSJ)
  • Low Rates Force Companies to Pour Cash Into Pensions (WSJ)
  • JAL wants to discuss 787 grounding compensation with Boeing (Reuters)
  • Abe Shortens List for BOJ Chief as Japan Faces Monetary Overhaul (Bloomberg)
  • Monte Paschi probe to widen as Italian election nears (Reuters)
  • Hedge funds up bets against Italy's Monte Paschi (Reuters)
  • Spain's opposition Socialists tell Rajoy to resign (Reuters)
  • Electric cars head toward another dead end (Reuters)
  • BlackRock Sued by Funds Over Securities Lending Fees (Bloomberg)
  • Amplats plunges to an annual loss (FT)
  • Youngest American Woman Billionaire Found With In-N-Out (Bloomberg)

Overnight Media Digest


* The Baltimore Ravens survived a 35-minute blackout and a fierce comeback from San Francisco to win the Super Bowl.

* The U.S. is fighting Anheuser-Busch InBev's acquisition proposal for Grupo Modelo with a game plan developed in earlier antitrust cases, casting the Budweiser brewer as a dominant player that wants to eliminate a scrappy rival.

* U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne on Monday will announce new powers for regulators to split up banks that flout rules designed to ring-fence retail banking from riskier investment-banking activity.

* Two top Barclays Plc executives announced their resignations Sunday, as the giant British bank swept out some of the last vestiges of its scandal-plagued prior management team.

* U.S. regulators on Monday will mandate enhanced inspections and repairs where necessary to cables that control tail surfaces on about 30,000 Piper aircraft, some of the most popular general-aviation planes sold in the United States.

* The European Union has asked national bank regulators in the 27-nation bloc to explain policies that may be preventing free flows of funds across national borders, the first public step in a campaign by EU authorities to combat fragmentation of the region's financial markets.

* Boeing Co is expected to begin piecing together the next version of its Dreamliner jet in the coming weeks, even without a fix for what has bedeviled the plane's electrical system or a timetable for resuming flights.



EUROPEAN BANK BONUSES FACE 20 PCT CUT - European investment banks are set to cut their bonus pools in the coming weeks by 20 percent in a move that will exacerbate the pay gap with their US rivals.

BLACKSTONE SECURES UNDERWRITING LICENCE - Blackstone, one of the world's largest alternative asset managers, has quietly secured a securities underwriting licence as its expanding capital markets operation strays into investment banking territory.

BARCLAYS FINANCE CHIEF TO STEP DOWN - Chris Lucas, Barclays' finance director since 2007, and Mark Harding, general counsel, are to step down, in the latest sign of the pressure piling on the British bank's top management following a string of scandals and a probe into the lender's capital raising efforts during the financial crisis. AB INBEV TO FIGHT DOJ MOVE OVER MODELO - Anheuser-Busch InBev has signalled it intends to fight a Department of Justice lawsuit seeking to block its $20 billion deal to take full control of Modelo, the Mexican brewer.

CITIGROUP STARTS SENIOR HIRING AMID CUTS - Citigroup has hired one of Europe's best-known dealmakers as the US group seeks to add a string of top investment bankers even as it is sharply reducing junior staff. Luigi de Vecchi, a former Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs banker, has been appointed as chairman for corporate and investment banking in continental Europe, the US bank will announce on Monday. APPLE REVERSES STANCE ON VOTING REFORM - Apple has sought the help of one of the sharpest critics of its corporate governance policies to push through reforms on shareholder voting rights at its annual meeting this month. The technology giant has enlisted the aid of Calpers, the largest US pension fund, to lobby other big shareholders on the vote.

TRAFIGURA BETS $800M ON AUSTRALIA ENERGY - Trafigura, one of the world's largest commodities trading houses, has bet roughly $800 million on the transformation of the Australian energy market with the acquisition of two petrol station and oil import terminal companies. BUYOUT GROUPS EXPLORE PROSIEBEN EXIT - KKR and Primera, the private equity owners of ProsiebenSat.1, are exploring a sale of their controlling stake in Germany's largest private broadcaster to a trade buyer, as they look to cash out from a multi-billion euro leveraged buyout done before the financial crisis.

SIR STUART TO BECOME FAT FACE CHAIRMAN - Sir Stuart Rose, the high profile former Marks and Spencer boss who last month took on the chairmanship of online grocery company Ocado , is adding UK clothing retailer Fat Face to his jobs portfolio.

CENTRICA SET FOR 'NEW NUCLEAR' EXIT - Centrica, owner of British Gas, is believed to be ready to pull out of plans to build nuclear power stations in Britain, clearing the way for Chinese investors to step in.



* About 90 seconds into the second half of Sunday's Super Bowl, the lights on one half of the Superdome's roof suddenly went out, internet connections in the press box were cut, and the scoreboards went dark. The power failure was one of the oddest moments in Super Bowl history, and officials said they were still investigating its cause.

* U.S. President Obama said on Sunday that he could foresee a budget deal in Congress that did not include further increases in tax rates but instead focused on eliminating loopholes and deductions.

* Barclays Plc said its chief financial officer and its general counsel would resign, the latest departures after the British bank's involvement in a series of scandals, including an investigation into the manipulation of global interest rates.

* Bank of America Corp continued dubious mortgage modification practices even after its acquisition of Countrywide, court documents show.

* New details raise questions on whether the U.S. government will be able to build its insider trading case against Steven Cohen, the billionaire owner of hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors.

* The Medicines Co is licensing the rights to a powerful type of cholesterol-lowering drug from Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc, entering one of the hottest races in the industry.




* Prime Minister Stephen Harper has categorically rejected Quebec's demands for changes to tough new employment insurance rules that Premier Pauline Marois says will have "dramatic consequences" on seasonal workers in her province.

* As Canada prepares to take the helm of the eight-nation Arctic Council, a proposed treaty dealing with blowouts and oil spills is being criticized as so pro-development that it will delight drillers but leave the fragile Arctic environment exposed to catastrophic damage, according to Greenpeace Canada.

Reports in the business section:

* Canada's most ubiquitous coin will play a dwindling part in everyday business beginning Sunday, as Ottawa phases it out to cut costs. The passing of the penny will affect the full spectrum of the nation's economy, from big banks to the corner store - forcing businesses and consumers to change some of their habits.


* A winter storm is dumping heavy snow on Eastern Canada, with more than 30 centimeters expected in parts of Nova Scotia by Monday afternoon. Environment Canada has issued snowfall warnings for the Halifax area and along the southwestern coast of the province.

* Police say a mob-linked multi-million dollar illegal gambling ring was dismantled Sunday night when heavily armed tactical teams raided a massive Super Bowl party in Markham, Ontario.


* The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday struck a blow to workers and retirees who want pension plans to rank first in line for payouts to creditors in corporate bankruptcies or restructurings.

In the landmark case, Sun Indalex Finance LLC vs United Steelworkers et al., the court found that pension funds do not rank ahead of "debtor-in-possession" (DIP) lenders in bankruptcy protection proceedings.




-- A commentary urges government departments to stop using public money during the Chinese lunar new year, which falls on Feb. 10 this year, as part of a government campaign to fight official corruption.


-- The recent lingering pollution in Beijing and some other northern cities is expected to force Chinese refineries to upgrade the quality of fuel and gasoline.

-- The government campaign to fight official corruption has caused share prices of alcohol producers to drop in recent weeks. Alcohol is widely used in public entertainment in China, and investors believe the campaign will reduce consumption of alcohol and thus weaken earnings of producers.


-- As China's stock market has staged a strong rally since early December, the ratio of stock holdings by domestic mutual funds has now reached a high level of 89.53 percent among all their securities holdings.

-- A commentary says China needs to expand overseas investment to make better use of its big foreign trade surplus.


-- An increasing number of Chinese people are realising the value of Internet domain names. Those who manage to buy good names can make a lot of money. By the end of 2012, China had 13.4 million domain names registered in the country, a 73.1 percent increase from a year earlier.


Fly On The Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot



BlackBerry (BBRY) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Bernstein
Franklin Resources (BEN) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Keefe Bruyette
Maxwell (MXWL) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at Piper Jaffray
Mead Johnson (MJN) upgraded to Conviction Buy from Neutral at Goldman
St. Jude Medical (STJ)  upgraded to Outperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse
Timken (TKR) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at BofA/Merrill
Ultra Clean (UCTT) upgraded to Buy from Hold at Needham
Western Union (WU) upgraded to Buy from Hold at Deutsche Bank


AkzoNobel (AKZOY) downgraded to Reduce from Neutral at Nomura
Cash America (CSH) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Janney Capital
Charles Schwab (SCHW) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at UBS
Chevron (CVX) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at UBS
Columbia Sportswear (COLM) downgraded to Sell from Neutral at Citigroup
Comfort Systems USA (FIX) downgraded to Hold from Buy at BB&T
Copart (CPRT) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at RW Baird
Google (GOOG) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at BMO Capital
Hershey (HSY) downgraded to Neutral from Conviction Buy at Goldman
LeapFrog (LF) downgraded to Buy from Strong Buy at Ascendiant Capital
Merck (MRK) downgraded to Underweight from Equal Weight at Morgan Stanley
Michael Baker (BKR) downgraded to Hold from Buy at KeyBanc
PennyMac (PMT) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Keefe Bruyette
Vodafone (VOD) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
WESCO (WCC) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at UBS
WSFS Financial (WSFS) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Janney Capital
Wal-Mart (WMT) downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan


CEMEX (CX) coverage reinstated with a Neutral at Citigroup
Dover (DOV) initiated with a Buy at Ascendiant Capital
Fusion-io (FIO) initiated with a Neutral at UBS


Aegon (AEG) ended joint venture with Unnim Banc, sells stake for EUR 353M
US Airways' (LCC) Piedmont Airlines and ALPA reached tentative agreement
American Safety Insurance (ASI) rating revised to negative from stable at A.M. Best
Third Point sold a portion of holdings in Yahoo (YHOO)
Commerzbank (CRZBY) sees employee cuts of 4,000 to 6,000 through 2016
Blackstone (BX) acquired stake in two Maldives-based seaplane operators
Cowen Group (COWN) to acquire Dahlman Rose, terms not disclosed


Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
HomeStreet (HMST), Humana (HUM), (SOHU), (CYOU), Brown & Brown (BRO)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
Eloqua (ELOQ), Cape Bancorp (CBNJ), First Bancorp (FBNC)


  • Ford (F) expects to spend $5B this year shoring up its pension funds. The automaker is one of a who's who of U.S. companies pouring cash into pension plans now being battered by record low interest rates, the Wall Street Journal reports
  • Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and (AMZN) have battled each other for dominance in mobile gadgets and Web searches. The latest front in their war is invisible: computing horsepower, the Wall Street Journal reports
  • Japan Airlines Co. said it will talk to Boeing (BA) about compensation for the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner, adding that the idling of its jets would cost it about $8M from its earnings through to the end of March, Reuters reports
  • Recent moves by Japan's two largest automakers, Toyota (TM) and Nissan (NSANY), suggest that the electric car, after more than 100 years of development and several brief revivals, still is not ready for prime time, and may never be, Reuters reports
  • Investment returns earned by “mega” public pensions, with assets of more than $5B, topped those of the smaller plans by almost 1% last year. Big government-employee pensions reported median returns of 13.43% for the year. Funds with less than $1B in assets had median returns of 12.47%, according to Wilshire Associates, Bloomberg reports
  • Stocks in the world’s developed nations posted the best start to a year in two decades, a sign the global economy is poised to accelerate after contractions in Japan, the U.S. and Europe, if history is a guide. The MSCI World Index of stocks in 24 markets gained 5% in January, the most since 1994, Bloomberg reports


Tata Motors (TTM) could offer a 25% upside within the next 18 months
SanDisk (SNDK) could rise 20% due to increased use of flash memory
GulfMark Offshore (GLF) stock could rise 30% or higher this year
BlackBerry's (RIMM, BBRY) 10 provides hope to Research in Motion
An increase in buyers and sellers will drive Amazon's (AMZN) stock


NXP Semiconductors (NXPI) files to sell 30M shares of common stock for holders
PURE Bioscience (PURE) files to sell $15M of common stock
Qualstar (QBAK) files to sell 530K shares of common stock for holders
U.S. Silica (SLCA) files to sell 41.17M shares of common stock for holders