John Kerry was due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today in another attempt to resolve the Ukraine crisis. The talks come ahead of a referendum in Crimea on Sunday over a proposal for the province to join Russia, which yesterday started a fresh set of military exercises near Ukraine. The latter's interim prime minister believes it's a foregone conclusion that Crimea will vote to leave his country.
A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a proposal to renew long-term jobless benefits for five months. The payments would be paid retroactively from December, when the previous extension expired. The senators expect their chamber to pass the measure, which would cost $10B but apparently be covered by a complicated set of offsets. Whether the House will approve the proposal is a different story.
As expected, German CPI rose 0.5% on month in February after dropping 0.6% in January. On year, inflation slipped to 1.2% from 1.3%, although excluding falling energy costs, CPI would have been +1.7%. The low inflation in Germany mirrors a trend across Europe and comes amid fears about deflation in the eurozone.
The Nikkei slumped 3.3% and led Asian and European stocks lower following more weak Chinese economic data yesterday and amid increased tension over Ukraine. A sharp rise in the yen overnight, partly as a safe haven, didn't help matters. "Japan stocks often take the first hit on bad Asian news, then when the U.S. markets fall later, they react to that as well," says hedge-fund manager Ed Rogers.
Three hundred and three people were killed when air bags failed to open because of faulty ignition switches in GM (NYSE:GM) cars, the Center for Auto Safety watchdog calculates. The number is far greater than the 13 people whose deaths the company has acknowledged were linked to the switches. GM, which has recalled 1.6M vehicles because of the defect, said the center's data is "raw" and needs "rigorous analysis."
The crisis in Ukraine could reportedly affect Morgan Stanley's (NYSE:MS) deal to sell its oil-trading unit to Rosneft (OTC:RNFTF), especially if U.S.-Russian relations worsen. The agreement, worth several hundred million dollars, needs the approval of the U.S.'s Committee on Foreign Investment, which considers the national security risks of transactions and can block them.
Barclays could reportedly slash thousands of jobs at its investment bank as part of a radical overhaul of the operations that could even include the departure of its top two managers. The speculation comes amid shareholder unrest following Barclays' (NYSE:BCS) decision to increase bonus payments by 10% last year despite declining profits, with some investors indicating they will vote against the compensation package at next month's annual meeting.
The EPA is lifting the ban that prohibited BP (NYSE:BP) from bidding for new federal contracts. Under a five-year administrative deal, the company has agreed to safety, ethical and corporate-governance requirements. BP had been banned from U.S. government contracts following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
The White House has moved to protect students from overwhelming debt by proposing rules that could cut federal funding to higher-education training programs if the cohort default rate among graduates for their student loans exceeds 30% for three years in a row. Programs could lose out under other conditions as well. The for-profit education sector is unsurprisingly not happy with the proposals.
Herbalife is continuing talks with leading investor Carl Icahn about the latter adding two of his nominees to the company's board. Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) agreed to such a move last year, but movement on the matter might bolster confidence in the company following news that the FTC has opened an investigation into the firm.
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In Asia, Japan -3.3% to 14328. Hong Kong -1% to 21539. China -0.7% to 2004. India +0.2% to 21810.
In Europe, at midday, London -0.1%. Paris -0.4%. Frankfurt -0.2%.
Futures at 6:20: Dow +0.1%. S&P +0.2%. Nasdaq +0.2%. Crude +0.1% to $98.27. Gold +0.05% to $1371.20.
Ten-year Treasury Yield +1 bps to 2.66%.
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