Wall Street Breakfast: Must Know News

by: Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt
Seeking Alpha's flagship daily business news summary, gives you a rapid overview of the day's key financial news. It is published before 7:00 AM ET every market day and delivered to over 900,000 email subscribers.

  • Jobs growth arrives. Nonfarm payrolls rose by 162K in March, the biggest monthly advance in three years and the first convincing evidence since the recession began that the job market is recovering. Job creation was spread across industries, suggesting the uptick reflects broad economic momentum. Still, the duration of unemployment remains near record highs, and the number of long-term unemployed (+27 weeks) rose by 414K to 6.5M. Economist Heidi Shierholz summed up the Street's cautious optimism: "We have had this massive disaster, but we're at a place now where things are stabilizing. But it's nowhere near the level of growth we need to start moving the dial." Stock markets were closed Friday, giving investors the long weekend to mull the data's significance going into the new week.
  • Geithner delays call on China currency manipulation. Treasury's Tim Geithner is delaying his April 15 report to Congress on the exchange rate policies of major U.S. trading partners, buying time to decide whether to label China as a currency manipulator. Geithner urged China to move toward a more flexible currency, and said the goal of the delay is to capitalize on "the G-20 and S&ED meetings with China to make material progress in the coming months." In another indication of a possible China-U.S. detente over the yuan, Li Daokui, a member of China's central bank monetary policy committee, said the countries' currency disagreement can be easily solved as long as the U.S. respects China's "core interests." The delay, and Li's comments, come ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's trip to Washington D.C. on April 12-13.
  • NBER official says recession has ended. There's been no official word from the National Bureau of Economic Research, but a key official says the recession is likely over. Robert Hall, head of the NBER's Business Cycle Dating Committee, referencing Friday's payrolls figure, said he "personally put lots of emphasis on employment. I would say 'pretty clear' is a good description" for whether the economic contraction has ended. An official announcement from the NBER may still be some time away, however, as the committee won't make a declaration until it can assign a precise end date to the recession, a process which usually takes 6-18 months.
  • Criminal charges unlikely in AIG probe. Two years after federal prosecutors launched an investigation into the role of AIG's (NYSE:AIG) executives in the insurer's collapse, the probe will likely end without a single criminal charge, sources say. Former AIG executive Joseph Cassano has been at the center of the probe, but the case against him has reportedly "hit a brick wall," with investigators unable to uncover evidence that Cassano lied to his bosses or shareholders about the company's financial problems.
  • iPad debut. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) enthusiasts lined up Saturday morning to get their hands on a spanking new iPad (teardown), but once doors opened things were relatively tame, with some reports of sellouts, but many store managers saying they were well stocked. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster - a respected Apple authority - estimates first-weekend sales at 600-700K, vastly stronger than his initial projection of 200-300K. But launch sales could be tempered by the fact that customers have been able to pre-order the iPad for home delivery, and because 3G-enabled iPads only begin selling later this month.
  • Backlash against iron ore pricing. The China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) has asked domestic steel companies and traders with import licenses not to buy iron ore from Vale (NYSE:VALE), Rio Tinto (RTP) and BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) in the next two months, in protest of the new quarterly iron ore pricing system. CISA believes global iron ore producers have made "unreasonable requests for price hikes," and Chinese steelmakers have enough iron ore inventory to sustain a two-month buying moratorium.
  • Faulty paperwork at center of foreclosure probe. Docx, a unit of Lender Processing Services (NYSE:LPS) - which provides backoffice services for banks in the foreclosure process - is being investigated by federal prosecutors for criminal violations. A U.S. government lawyer who monitors bankruptcy courts believes some of LPS's loan documents were "patently false or misleading"; among the docs being reviewed is one that names "Bogus Assignee" as the owner of a loan (a company spokesman says that this phrase is used as a placeholder and was inadvertently not updated). Faulty paperwork has been an ongoing issue in foreclosure proceedings since the housing crisis began.
  • Signs of life in real estate? Two possible signs of a possible real-estate rebound, one each from the west and east coasts. Home prices in so-called sand states - the sandy, sunny retreats that lured investors during the boom and were among the hardest hit in the bust - are starting to recover. In areas of California, prices for single-family homes are up 8.5%-14.7%, and in Arizona prices are up 7.4%. Florida and Nevada, in contrast, have yet to see a meaningful bounce. And in Manhattan, apartment sales doubled in Q1 as bargain hunters scooped up condos at prices about 29% below the peak.
  • CEO pay falls for the second year. Pay czar Kenneth Feinberg is making his mark. A report analyzing the compensation for 200 chief executives of public companies found that pay dropped 15% in 2009, the second annual decline. The average total was $9.5M in 2009, roughly comparable with 2004. However, last year's drop was largely due to a decline in the value of stock and option awards, which means a handful of lucky CEOs received a windfall when share prices rose. Alan Mulally of Ford (NYSE:F), for example, saw his 2009 options package grow nearly 10 times in value, to more than $50M.

Today's Markets

  • In Asia, Japan +0.5%. Hong Kong closed. China closed. India +1.3%.
  • In Europe at midday, London closed. Paris closed. Frankfurt +1.3%.
  • Futures: S&P +0.23%. 10-yr -0.05%. Euro -0.21% vs. dollar. Crude +0.57% to $85.35. Gold +0.04% to $1126.60.

Monday's Economic Calendar

Seeking Alpha editors Rachael Granby and Eli Hoffmann contributed to this post.

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