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Economy
Chinese factory activity has contracted for the fifth straight month in March, with flash manufacturing PMI slipping to 48.1 from 48.5 in February and missing consensus of 48.7. "Weakness is broadly based with domestic demand softening further," says HSBC. "We expect Beijing to launch a series of policy measures to stabilize growth." Hopes of such stimulus helped push the Shanghai Composite up 0.9%, while the Hang Seng rose 1.9%.

Eurozone business activity has cooled slightly this month, the flash composite PMI slipping to 53.2 from 53.3 in February but topping consensus of 52.6. Manufacturing and services PMI fell, although the eurozone enjoyed its best quarter for business activity since Q2 2011, says Markit, with the PMI survey signalling a 0.5% increase in Q1 GDP after growth of 0.3% in Q4. German PMI readings disappointed, but France's business activity surprisingly returned to growth.

President Obama has arrived in Europe for a six-day trip to the region and to Saudi Arabia. The visit has been planned for months and was initially supposed to focus on nuclear security, but the Ukraine crisis is set to dominate. Russian troops seized a Ukrainian naval base in Feodosia in Crimea today, while a top Nato commander has warned of a threat from Russia into eastern Ukraine.

Stocks
Apple and Comcast are reportedly in discussions about a service that would enable users to stream live and/or on-demand TV, and digital-video recordings stored in the cloud. The service would use an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) set-top box and get special treatment over the "last mile" on Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) network so that downloads would be faster. The latter would have to make significant investments, though.

IMS Health's owners reportedly hope to raise $1B in an IPO that would value the company at $7B. IMS (NYSE:IMS), which provides data on prescriptions, medical claims and sales to healthcare companies, could price its shares at $21 each and carry out the listing within two weeks. Investors TPG, Leonard Green and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board took IMS private for $4B in 2010.

As expected, South Korea has formally selected Lockheed Martin's (NYSE:LMT) F-35 jet for the country's military, with Reuters reporting that the government anticipates paying 7.34T won ($6.79B) for 40 planes. South Korea's decision follows a report that the F-35 faces more delays due to software problems and news that Italy could further scale back a program to purchase 90 F-35s.

Unilever's Ragu brand is reportedly attracting interest from Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL) and J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM), as well as Pinnacle Foods (NYSE:PF), Hillshire Brands (NYSE:HSH) and Post Holdings (NYSE:POST). First round bids for the pasta sauce, which could bring in up to $2B, are due in at the end of this week. The auction adds to Unilever's (NYSE:UL) sale of other famous food brands such as Skippy peanut butter.

Cisco Systems plans to invest $1B over the next two years on a new cloud-computing service similar to Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ:AMZN). Cisco Cloud Service (NASDAQ:CSCO) has already snagged partners, including Australian telecom operator Telstra (OTCPK:TLSYY) and Canada's Allstream. The introduction of the cloud service comes as Cisco looks to revive falling revenues.

The CEO of JPMorgan's China investment bank operations, Fang Fang, is reportedly retiring after over 12 1/2 years at the firm. The departure comes amid a U.S. probe into JPMorgan's (NYSE:JPM) recruitment practices in Asia. Fang has become a key figure in the investigation, having written emails supporting hiring the son of China Everbright Chairman Tang Shuangning.

Nokia's sale of its handset business to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) will be completed in April rather than at the end of this month, as initially expected. The postponement is due to Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Microsoft not yet receiving authorization from a number of regulators, including in China. The deal has already received approval in the U.S. and Europe.


Top Ideas
Tuesday Morning (NASDAQ:TUES) - new article by Volte-Face Investments »
Willi-Food International (NASDAQ:WILC) - new article by Igor Novgorodtsev »
Renewable Energy Group (NASDAQ:REGI) +11.8% since Mar. 12 Daniel Walk article »
Kearny Financial (NASDAQ:KRNY) +42.8% since Oct. 21 AlphaGen article »

SA PRO subscribers get an early look at Top Ideas and access to the SA PRO research library. Learn about SA PRO »

Today's Markets:
In Asia, Japan +1.8% to 14475.3. Hong Kong +1.9% to 21846. China +0.9% to 2066. India +1.4% to 22055.
In Europe, at midday, London -0.3%. Paris -0.5%. Frankfurt -0.7%.
Futures at 6:20: Dow +0.15%. S&P +0.2%. Nasdaq +0.3%. Crude +0.2% to $99.63. Gold -0.8% to $1325.10.
Ten-year Treasury Yield +2 bps to 2.77%.

Today's economic calendar:
8:30 Chicago Fed National Activity Index
9:45 PMI Manufacturing Index Flash
1:45 PM Fed's Fisher: "Forward Guidance: Fad or the Future of Monetary Policy"

Notable earnings before today's open: SOL

Notable earnings after today's close: SONC

See full real-time earnings coverage »

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Source: Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News