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  • Greece gets help, sort of. European leaders promised “determined and coordinated action” to support Greece’s efforts to reduce its debt, but stopped short of committing financial aid and were light on details. An anonymous EU official said leaders are working on establishing a lending facility for Greece, with each country making a contribution according to its size, while the IMF said it's "willing and able to support Greece in ways that the Greek authorities think is appropriate." Meanwhile, investors are waiting to see how the eurozone governments plan to back their words with actions.
  • Eurozone growth stumbles. Several data points out this morning are less than encouraging about the economic health of Europe. The eurozone reported an anemic 0.1% growth rate in Q4, falling short of a 0.3% growth forecast. Germany's economic growth came to an unexpected halt, with GDP flat in the final quarter of last year, vs. +0.2% growth expected and two previous quarters of expansion. Italy did even worse, with GDP falling 0.2% vs. expectations of 0.1% growth. France managed to post 0.6% growth in large part due to consumer spending on a French car scrappage program. Yesterday, Spain announced that it was still in a recession, with GDP contracting 0.1%. The news sent the euro down 1.2% against the dollar and the pound down 0.7%.
  • Motorola to split into two. Motorola (MOT) confirmed that it will split into two independent, publicly traded companies in the first quarter of 2011. One company will include the money-losing mobile devices unit, while the other will focus on Motorola's successful enterprise networking. Current shareholders will receive a share in each new company. The news sent shares up 3% in after hours trading.
  • Regulators working for Toyota helped halt probes. Former regulators hired by Toyota (TM) helped the company end at least four investigations in the last decade into unintended vehicle acceleration. Toyota hired two former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulators to deal with NHTSA issues, raising questions about the relationship between Toyota and the agency, and the handling of Toyota defects over the last six years. U.S. lawmakers are holding hearings over Toyota's recalls, and at least one lawmaker has suggested issuing a subpoena to Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.
  • More details needed in BofA settlement. Judge Jed Rakoff said yesterday that he needs more information before he approves a $150M settlement between Bank of America (BAC) and the SEC. In particular, he wants more details on why shareholders weren't informed of Merrill Lynch's problems ahead of the merger, and whether anyone pushed for disclosure of Merrill's problems or of its planned $3.6B bonus payout. Bank of America and the SEC must supply the additional details by Tuesday, and Rakoff will rule next Friday.
  • Senate Dems work on jobs stimulus. Senate Democrats unveiled an $85B jobs-stimulus plan that offers companies a tax break for hiring workers who have been out of work for at least 60 days. The plan also extends unemployment benefits until June, eases corporate-pension funding requirements and gives small businesses more leeway in writing off the cost of capital investments. If the Senate approves the plan, lawmakers will have to reconcile it with a $150B jobs-stimulus measure approved by the House in December.
  • Berkshire joins S&P 500. Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B) will be added to the S&P 500 today. As a result, index funds could spend as much as $14B buying Berkshire shares. Separately, Berkshire is set to complete its acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNI) today after around 70% of Burlington shareholders approved the deal.
  • China hikes reserve ratio. China unexpectedly raised its reserve requirement by 0.5% to 16.5%, effective Feb. 25. It's the second time this year that China has raised the reserve ratio amid concerns about inflation and a possible asset bubble.
  • Banks borrow less from Fed. Banks continued to cut their borrowing from the Federal Reserve's emergency loan program, averaging $14.6B in daily borrowing for the week that ended Wednesday. This was down from $14.8B daily the week before and from $110B daily during the peak of the financial crisis.
  • Georgia loosens bank lending rules. Georgia, already the No. 1 state for bank failures, is making it easier for banks chartered by the state to increase their exposure to a single borrower. Supporters say the move, which allows banks to exceed current lending limits if a borrower is up to date on payments, will prevent Georgia's banks from losing some of their best borrowers and will help stabilize financial institutions. However, the law could also exacerbate weakness in Georgia's banking system brought on by risky lending, loan concentration and a relaxed regulatory environment.
  • Jobs lost are jobs gone. Around a quarter of the 8.4M jobs lost since the recession began are permanently gone and will need to be replaced by new work in growing industries, according to a survey given to economists. Respondents expect 2010 economic growth to register around 3%, but unemployment will only have dropped to 9.4% by year-end from last month's 9.7%.
  • Small banks struggle with trust preferreds. Many small banks issued trust preferreds during the lending boom, and are now struggling as the securities scare away potential investors. Trust preferreds are a mixture of debt and equity, and more than 1,500 small and regional banks issued around $50B of the securities from 2000 to 2008. Since holders of trust preferreds are the first in line to recover losses if a bank collapses, potential new investors are wary of injecting their own capital into banks. This impediment to raising capital makes it more likely that some of the weakest banks will fail.
  • A is for Aardvark. Google (GOOG) agreed to buy Mechanical Zoo Inc., which operates Aardvark, a web service combining social networking and internet search. The move is part of Google's continued push into the social networking market. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, though sources say the price was $50M.
  • Ex-Goldman programmer indicted. Former Goldman Sachs (GS) programmer Sergey Aleynikov was indicted yesterday on the charges that he stole proprietary high-frequency trading computer codes from the firm. Aleynikov faces up to 25 years in prison.
  • Mexico approves Slim's consolidation plan. Mexican regulators approved Carlos Slim's plan to consolidate his fixed-line and wireless assets under the umbrella of America Movil (AMX).
  • Jobless claims fall. Initial jobless claims fell 43K to 440K vs. 468K consensus. Continuing claims fell 79K to 4,538,000.

Earnings: Friday Before Open

  • Ultra Petroleum (UPL): Q4 EPS of $0.51 beats by $0.04. Revenue of $213M (+2.9%) vs. $237M. (PR)

Earnings: Thursday After Close

  • Alcon (ACL): Q4 EPS of $1.61 beats by $0.10. Revenue of $1.7B (+15%) vs. $1.6B. Shares -1.3% AH. (PR)
  • Cephalon (CEPH): Q4 EPS of $1.62 beats by $0.04. Revenue of $575M (+6.5%) vs. $573M. Q1 guidance $1.60-$1.70 EPS vs. $1.51 consensus, $575M-$595M revenue vs. $576M consensus. Shares -0.2% AH. (PR, earnings call transcript)
  • Cheesecake Factory (CAKE): Q4 EPS of $0.28 beats by $0.04. Revenue of $401M vs. $401M. Shares -2.0% AH. (PR, earnings call transcript)
  • DCT Industrial Trust (DCT): Q4 FFO of $0.11, in-line. Revenue of $61M (-4.7%) vs. $60M. Shares -0.2% AH. (PR)
  • General Cable (BGC): Q4 EPS of $0.24, in-line. Revenue of $1.13B (-24.5%) vs. $1.07B. Issues downside Q1 guidance. Shares -2.3% AH. (PR)
  • McAfee (MFE): Q4 EPS of $0.64 in-line. Revenue of $526M (+24%) vs. $515M. Will buy back $500M in shares. Shares -1.3% AH. (PR, earnings call transcript)
  • Republic Services (RSG): Q4 EPS of $0.33 in-line. Revenue of $2B (+61%) vs. $2.1B. Sees fiscal 2010 EPS of $1.63-1.67 vs. $1.67, on revenue decreasing 0.5-2%. "We have exceeded our original 2009 guidance for earnings, free cash flow and margins... We achieved annual run rate synergy savings of $150 million, well ahead of our plan." (PR, earnings call transcript)

Today's Markets

  • In Asia, Nikkei +1.3% to 10092. Hang Seng -0.1% to 20269. Shanghai +1.1% to 3018. BSE +1.4% to 16153.
  • In Europe at midday, London -0.5% to 5138. Paris -0.1% to 3614. Frankfurt +0.1% to 5509.
  • Futures: Dow -0.61% to 10048. S&P -0.65% to 1070. Nasdaq -0.76%. Crude flat at $80.33. Gold -0.26% to $1170.90.

Friday's Economic Calendar

Seeking Alpha editors Eli Hoffmann and Jason Aycock contributed to this post.


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