- French unemployment rises again to highest since 1999 (Reuters)
- BoJ rejects call for monetary easing (FT)
- North Korea threatens pre-emptive nuclear strike against US (Guardian)
- Firms Race to Raise Cash (WSJ)
- Time Warner Will Split From Magazine Unit in Third Spinoff (BBG) - slideshows, kittens, "all you need to knows" coming to Time
- U.S. economy, world's engine, remains in "neutral": Fed's Fisher (Reuters)
- BOE Keeps QE on Hold as Officials Weigh More Radical Measures (BBG)
- Jobs start to go as US sequestration cuts in (FT)
- BofA Times an Options Trade Well (WSJ)
- Congress Budget Cuts Damage U.S. Economy Without Aiding Outlook (BBG)
- Dell’s Crafted LBO Pitch Gets Messy as Investors Circle (BBG)
- Dell says Icahn opposes go-private deal (Reuters)
- Portugal Rating Outlook Raised to Stable by S&P on Budget Plan (BBG)
- China’s Richer-Than-Romney Lawmakers Reveal Reform Challenge (BBG)
Overnight Media Digest
* U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood needs more information to be convinced that Boeing Co's proposed fixes to batteries on its 787 Dreamliner are adequate to enable the jet to resume commercial flights.
* Michael Dell is battling to keep his $24.4 billion buyout of Dell Inc on track after a major shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management Inc, balked and Dell's biggest rival, Hewlett-Packard Co considered a bid of its own.
* Time Warner Inc has decided to spin off its entire Time Inc magazine group, it said Wednesday, giving up on talks with Meredith Corp over the proposed merger of most of their titles.
* Microsoft Corp is backing a U.S. bill that would restrict commercial use of data gathered while children use computers at public schools. Its stated purpose is protecting privacy, but an unnamed focus of the bill is Google Inc .
* Gao Xiqing, president of China's giant sovereign-wealth fund, China Investment Corp, warned Japan against using its neighbors as a "garbage bin" by deliberately devaluing the yen, joining growing international griping about a potential currency war.
* Japanese auto maker Toyota Motor Corp on Wednesday announced its biggest management overhaul since 2009. Among the three outside directors named to the board is Mark Hogan, a former General Motors Co executive who once ran a now-dissolved California, United States joint-venture between Toyota and General Motors.
* General Motors Co's Chief Executive Dan Akerson said he was confident that the auto maker would meet the federal fuel-efficiency target set for 2025. He said initial steps to meeting the target include cutting the average weight of cars using lighter materials, introducing new engine technology and developing an all-electric vehicle with a range of up to 200 miles.
* A major test of China's promise to consolidate its solar-panel makers looms this month when Suntech Power Holdings Co, one of the industry's biggest companies, faces a deadline for a steep bond payment.
* Bank of America Corp profited from a big options bet it made on Constellation Brands Inc's stock days before the beverage maker announced an acquisition in which the bank was the lead lender.
George Osborne will use his budget to clarify how the government intends to use monetary policy to kick-start the economy.
Business secretary Vince Cable has said the time may have come to increase borrowing to fund housing and other infrastructure projects.
KPMG could lose its audit contract with HSBC after the bank said it would put its audit contract out to tender.
Google tipped Brussels off to Microsoft's violation of a voluntary antitrust deal that prompted the European Commission to slap the maker of the Windows operating system with a 561 million euro ($729.3 million) fine.
Time Warner said it would spin off its Time Inc and IPC magazine businesses as a new publicly listed company by the end of 2013.
Outgoing Bank of England governor Mervyn King called on the government to break up the Royal Bank of Scotland saying it would be the best way to claw back the majority of the 45 billion pounds used to bail out the bank.
BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley's pay fell nearly 22 percent last year to $2.67 million.
International Airlines Group Chief Executive Willie Walsh's remuneration has fallen to below that paid to the head of the company's British Airways unit.
Former BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward has been named chairman of CompactGTL, a company that turns natural gas into synthetic crude oil.
* Veteran activist investor Carl Icahn is planning to unveil a major stake in troubled computer maker Dell Inc and is expected to announce his opposition to the company's proposed $24.4 billion sale to its founder, a person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.
* The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is close to approving tests of Boeing Co's approach to fixing the batteries on its 787 jets, and the tests could begin next week, federal and industry officials said Wednesday.
* The European Union fined Microsoft Corp $732 million on Wednesday for failing to respect an antitrust settlement with regulators. But in a highly unusual "mea culpa," the European Union's top antitrust regulator said his department bore some of the responsibility for Microsoft's failure to respect a settlement that caused the fine.
* Just two months into office, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is showing an increasing willingness to take on some pillars of the country's establishment - the central bank and the politically influential farmers - in an aggressive attempt to finally breathe some new life into Japan's listless economy.
* Facebook Inc plans to announce a substantial redesign of its "News Feed" - a makeover aimed both at keeping users glued to the social network and luring more advertising dollars.
* Investment fund Content Partners LLC said on Wednesday it had agreed to acquire the half of the "C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation" television franchise owned by an affiliate of Goldman Sachs Group Inc in a deal that makes it a co-owner, with CBS Corp, of the long-running series and its spinoffs.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
* Parliament is being asked to approve C$108 million ($105 million) for a new Canadian embassy building in central London that the Department of Foreign Affairs bought in November, a move that is raising questions over whether the Conservative government's plan to save millions abroad is going to pan out.
* Alberta Premier Alison Redford plans to overhaul her province's finances in her imminent budget by slowing spending growth, pouring money into infrastructure and starting a savings plan - all while backing away from election promises and sending her province back into debt.
* The Toronto District School Board eliminated hundreds of jobs on Wednesday night, including high school special education teachers, guidance counselors and vice-principals.
Reports in the business section:
* A darker trade outlook, softer housing market and a more dovish central bank have caught up to the Canadian dollar, as investors and currency speculators look elsewhere for greener pastures. The once high flying loonie has been losing ground to most major currencies since last autumn, but the gap has widened in recent weeks.
* After months of delays, the federal government is set to release the long awaited rules for a key auction of wireless spectrum. Industry Minister Christian Paradis will make an official announcement in Ottawa on Thursday morning that will outline the final regulations for the 700 megahertz auction that will be held later this year.
* Talisman Energy Inc is putting large swaths of its Canadian assets on the auction block in a bid to focus the company and fill its coffers. Talisman wants to pull in between $2 billion and $3 billion from land sales or joint ventures in the next 12 to 18 months.
* Quebec Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, already under scrutiny for his C$20,000 in housing expenses, is facing more controversy after it was revealed he had been in a romantic relationship with one of his Parliament Hill employees.
* Almost 300,000 members and supporters have signed up to choose the next leader of the federal Liberal party, which could be the highest number the party has ever seen. Party president Mike Crawley says 294,002 people are eligible to vote.
* Media mogul David Black said on Wednesday he's close to signing a memorandum for financing to build a new pipeline and oil refinery in Kitimat, British Columbia. Speaking to the BC Chamber of Commerce, Black said his new company Kitimat Clean Inc expects to sign a memorandum of understanding with Switzerland-based Oppenheimer Investments Group for a C$25 billion project.
* After months of staring down increasingly threatening economic data in Canada and abroad, the Bank of Canada appears to have blinked - ever so slightly. The central bank on Wednesday did what it has done for 2-1/2-years, leaving its near-rock-bottom interest rate unturned. But the wording behind the decision - keeping its trend-setting lending level at 1 percent - has been softened somewhat.
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
-- Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd expects to bank up to HK$40 billion ($5.16 billion) from property sales in Hong Kong and the mainland this year, a record for the company, said executive director Justin Chiu, adding that the developer would be making more than 5,200 Hong Kong flats and 2,500 mainland units available for sale this year, also a record high.
-- Paliburg Holdings and its partner Regal Hotels International Holdings will add more than 1,000 hotel rooms in the next three years despite fears of further measures to restraint growth of mainland visitors.
-- Hysan Development Co is redeveloping commercial block Sunning Plaza and residential project Sunning Court, in Causeway Bay, into a single mixed-use office and retail complex. The project is expected to be completed by around 2018.
MING PAO DAILY NEWS
-- Chinese state-owned insurer PICC Group has kicked off its A-share listing plan and hopes to complete it in the second half of this year, said chairman Wu Yan.
SING TAO DAILY
-- Chinese developer SOHO China Ltd, which saw net profit surge to 10.6 billion yuan ($1.70 billion) in 2012, is looking for merger or acquisition opportunities in Beijing and Shanghai this year, said chief executive Zhang Xin.
TA KUNG PAO
-- Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd has no plan at the moment to sell more hotel units as the number of residential units pending for sale is already very high, said executive director Justin Chiu.
Fly On The Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot
Big Lots (BIG) upgraded to Hold from Sell at Deutsche Bank
Clean Harbors (CLH) upgraded to Outperform from Neutral at RW Baird
Dril-Quip (DRQ) upgraded to Buy from Underperform at BofA/Merrill
MEMC Electronic (WFR) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman
Mellanox (MLNX) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at JMP Securities
New York Community (NYCB) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at Keefe Bruyette
SAP (SAP) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at HSBC
Varian Medical (VAR) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at Goldman
American Water (AWK) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
Big Lots (BIG) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Canaccord
Big Lots (BIG) downgraded to Underperform from Market Perform at Raymond James
DaVita (DVA) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Deutsche Bank
Daimler AG (DDAIF) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
DigitalGlobe (DGI) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Benchmark Co.
Fresenius Medical (FMS) downgraded to Sector Perform from Outperform at RBC Capital
Granite Real Estate (GRP) downgraded to Sector Perform from Outperform at RBC Capital
Lincoln Educational (LINC) downgraded to Underperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital
SandRidge Energy (SD) downgraded to Underperform from Market Perform at BMO Capital
Vitacost.com (VITC) downgraded to Sell from Neutral at Roth Capital
Angie's List (ANGI) initiated with an Overweight at Piper Jaffray
Kirby (KEX) initiated with a Market Perform at Wells Fargo
Nanometrics (NANO) initiated with a Buy at Canaccord
NTSB to release interim report on Boeing 787 (BA) investigation today at 11 am ET
Time Warner (TWX) announced plan to separate Time Inc.
Apache (APA) said to mull sale of deep-water Gulf of Mexico assets, Bloomberg reports
DryShips (DRYS, ORIG) said still bearish about short-term performance of shipping markets
Nacco Industries (NC) sees 2013 steam coal tons delivered increasing
Carnival (CCL) increased capacity in Asia with two ships for 2013-2014 season
Smithfield Foods (SFD) sees consistent growth from packaged meats business
Baskin-Robbins (DNKN), Baladari Brothers announced JV agreement
Country Style Cooking (CCSC) expects to open 60 new restaurants in 2013
Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
Energy Partners (EPL), Smithfield Foods (SFD), Delek US Holdings (DK), Piedmont Natural Gas (PNY), Alamo Group (ALG), Quaker Chemical (KWR), PetSmart (PETM), Korn/Ferry (KFY)
Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
U.S. Concrete (USCR), Safeguard Scientifics (SFE), Descartes Systems (DSGX), Sanchez Energy (SN), Accuride (ACW), China Lodging Group (HTHT), Steinway Musical (LVB), SolarCity (SCTY), Vail Resorts (MTN)
Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
Oiltanking Partners (OILT)
- Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher blamed both major U.S. political parties for a "horrid" political climate in Washington, and said monetary policy alone can't drive the economy, the Wall Street Journal reports
- Companies are taking advantage of the stock market rally to raise funds, a sign of U.S. corporations' desire to increase growth by investing and acquiring rivals following the financial crisis. Public firms have raised $35.1B in secondary offerings of stock in the U.S. since the beginning of the year, according to Dealogic, the Wall Street Journal reports
- China will likely appoint securities regulator Guo Shuqing to run the $482B state investment vehicle, China Investment Corp., and China's chief trade representative, Gao Hucheng, is seen running the Commerce Ministry, sources say, Reuters reports
- Exxon Mobil (XOM) launched an auction to sell up to $2B worth of shares in a Hong Kong power venture after a year-long effort to offload its holding to its partner yielded no result, sources say, Reuters reports
- GE (GE) and Caterpillar (CAT), the largest locomotive makers, are rushing to develop natural gas-powered models in a potential shift from diesel’s six decades as the fuel of choice for railroads, Bloomberg reports
- The largest U.S. banks are considering whether to disregard a Fed request and announce their dividend plans soon after the central bank’s stress tests are released, sources say. The Fed asked 18 firms, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Goldman Sachs (GS), to wait until next week, even though the lenders will get preliminary word today, Bloomberg reports
Acura Pharma (ACUR) files $75M mixed securities shelf
Artisan Partners (APAM) 11.05M share IPO priced at $30.00
Clean Energy (CLNE) files to sell 6.33M shares of common stock for holders
Discovery Communications (DISCK) 7.7M share Secondary priced at $64.75
FIS (FIS) files to sell 19.3M shares of common stock for holders
FleetCor (FLT) files to sell 4.5M shares of common stock for holders
Hertz Global (HTZ) files to sell 60.05M shares of common stock for holders
Inovio Pharma (INO) raises $15.1M in common stock and warrants
Kar Auction (KAR) 13M share Secondary priced at $19.25
Kayne Anderson (KYN) files to sell 4M shares of common stock
MGIC Investment (MTG) Corp. 135M share Secondary priced at $5.15
MRC Global (MRC) 23M share Secondary priced at $28.00
Oculus (OCLS) files to sell common stock, no amount given
Thermo Fisher (TMO) files automatic mixed securities shelf
Triple-S (GTS) files to sell 7M shares of Class B common stock for holders
Gabelli raises stake in Intermec (IN) to 16.02% from 14.86%
S.A.C. Capital Advisors reports 5.3% passive stake in Ann Inc. (ANN)