Kerry, Lavrov to meet over Ukraine. Global stocks have been trading in more moderate ranges today following a couple of tumultuous sessions as tensions cool over Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Paris today for their first face-to-face discussion over the situation. Russian troops remain in control of Crimea, and while President Vladimir Putin yesterday ruled out annexing the region, there's no sign that the soldiers will be returning to their bases.
China maintains growth goal of 7.5%. China has kept its annual GDP growth target at 7.5% for 2014, allaying the concerns of some but disappointing others that it would lower the goal as part of the government's focus on reforming the economy and trying to rein in ballooning credit. However, in an address to the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated his commitment to reform to make growth more sustainable.
Eurozone business activity better than initially estimated. Eurozone services PMI increased to 52.6 (flash 51.7) in February from 51.6 in January, while composite output rose to 53.3 (flash 52.7) from 52.9. The data suggests that eurozone GDP is on track to grow 0.4-0.5% in Q1, says Markit, which would be the "best performance for three years." Meanwhile, retail sales blew past expectations with a rise of 1.6% on month in January - the largest increase since November 2001 - after falling 1.3% in December.
Top Stock News
Verizon in talks to offer Web/mobile TV service. Verizon (NYSE:VZ) CEO Lowell McAdam said he has spoken with CEOs of major content providers about offering FiOS video content nationwide over broadband and mobile networks. McAdam's comments come six weeks after Verizon struck a deal to buy the assets of Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) stillborn Web TV unit, and shortly after Dish (NASDAQ:DISH) reached an agreement with Disney (NYSE:DIS) that gives the satellite-TV provider the right to offer Disney channels as part of a separate streaming service.
Russian aggression could mean major headaches for big oil firms. BP (NYSE:BP) and Chevron (NYSE:CVX) would be among the biggest losers if Russia-Ukraine tensions start heating up again, with collateral damage in related corporate-bond spreads, says Gimme Credit bond analyst Philip Adams. BP owns 19.75% of Russian energy giant Rosneft (OTC:RNFTF), and any sanctions that affect oil and gas flows to Europe or banking/capital flows, would "hit Rosneft and BP early and hard."
Top Economic & Other News
Obama details budget plan; debt payments seen tripling. President Obama yesterday unveiled his $3.9T budget for fiscal-year 2015, confirming proposals that had already been flagged in advance. These include tax hikes for the rich and energy companies, and increased spending on infrastructure and education. As expected, Republicans weren't too impressed with the plans. Perhaps more interestingly, the government expects debt interest payments to more than triple over the next decade to $886B, due to higher interest rates and increasing debt.
China headed for first onshore corporate-bond default. China's $1.5T publicly traded corporate-bond market is set to experience its first ever default after Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology said it may not be able to fully meet an 89.8M yuan ($14.6M) interest payment that is due on Friday. Until now, the government has bailed out at-risk companies. The news of the expected default weighed on Chinese stocks, although market strategist Chris Weston says it would be a good thing, as "a normal economy needs defaults to better price bonds and other debt products."
Australian economy grows faster than expected in Q4. Australia's GDP grew 0.8% on quarter in Q4 after expanding 0.6% in Q3 and topped consensus of +0.7%, lifted by increased household spending and lower savings. The message from the data is that the "rebalancing act" away from mining "is under way," says HSBC economist Paul Bloxham. "The Australian economy hasn't fallen in a heap since mining investment peaked," says Moody's Analytics economist Katrina Ell. "Further gains are likely as the monetary stimulus continues to filter through." The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.85%.
India sets date for world's biggest election. India's government has called what is poised to be the world's largest ever election, with 814M people registered to vote. A nine-stage process is due to start on April 7 and the results are scheduled for May 16. The favorite is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi, who has the backing of big business and has built up support amongst the middle classes. Modi is up against the ruling center-left Congress Party headed by Rahul Gandhi of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
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In Asia, Japan +1.2% to 14898. Hong Kong -0.3% to 22580. China -0.9% to 2053. India +0.3% to 21277.
In Europe, at midday, London -0.5%. Paris -0.4%. Frankfurt -0.3%.
Futures at 6:20: Dow flat. S&P -0.1%. Nasdaq flat. Crude -0.4% to $102.92. Gold -0.25% to $1334.50.
Ten-year Treasury Yield - 1bps to 2.7%.
Today's economic calendar:
7:00 MBA Mortgage Applications
8:15 ADP Jobs Report
9:00 PMI Services Index
10:00 ISM Non-Manufacturing Index
10:30 EIA Petroleum Inventories
11:00 Global Composite PMI
11:00 Global Services PMI
2:00 PM Fed's Beige Book
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