Ukrainian government forces have launched an attack to retake the eastern city of Slaviansk from pro-Russian separatists, who have shot down at least one helicopter gunship, if not more. The violence comes ahead of a meeting between President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel today, when Ukraine is set to be high on the agenda. Merkel is under pressure from German business not to increase the sanctions on Russia despite evidence of the latter's heavy involvement in the unrest in its neighbor.
Eurozone manufacturing PMI increased to 53.4 in April from 53 in March. All the nations covered indicated factory sector growth, which, says Markit "highlights how the recovery is becoming more broad-based." However, eurozone unemployment remained at a high rate of 11.8% in March. The number of unemployed people fell by 22,000 on month to 18.913M.
U.S. jobs data is due out this morning, with economists estimating that nonfarm payrolls rose by 210,000 in April after increasing 192,000 in March, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.6% from 6.7%. "It will confirm that the economy is gearing up to a higher rate of growth," says economic strategist Anthony Karydakis. "It would not be an isolated number, the vast majority of economic reports for the last several weeks point to an upward shift."
Japan's unemployment rate held steady at 3.6% in March, as expected. Meanwhile, overall household spending jumped 7.2% on year after dropping 2.5% in February and blew past consensus of +1%. The likelihood is that consumers rushed to make purchases before a hike in sales tax to 8% from 5% went into effect on April 1. The impact of the tax rise may not be as strong as feared, as auto makers and major department-stores yesterday reported smaller-than-expected declines in April sales.
Pfizer has raised its bid for AstraZeneca to £50 ($84.47) a share from £46.61 in a cash-and-stock offer that values the U.K. drugmaker at $106.4B vs $100B previously. AstraZeneca's (NYSE:AZN) board has reportedly been meeting today to review Pfizer's (NYSE:PFE) proposal. At the time of writing, AstraZeneca's shares were -0.6% at £47.865 in London.
Bayer is reportedly in exclusive talks to acquire Merck's (NYSE:MRK) consumer-health business for around $14B and an announcement is likely in the next few days. Reckitt Benckiser (OTCPK:RBGPF) said yesterday that it was no longer in active discussions for the unit. A deal would strengthen Merck's core drug operations while aiding Bayer's (OTCPK:BAYZF, OTCPK:BAYRY) consumer-products line by adding brands such as Claritin.
LinkedIn swung to a net loss of $13.32M in Q1 from a profit of $22.6M a year earlier as the online networking service increased investment. Adjusted EPS of $0.38 beat by $0.04 and revenue jumped 46% to $473.19M and also topped forecasts, although LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD) provided light sales guidance. In Q1, Talent Solutions revenue rose 50% on year, Marketing solutions (ads) increased 36%, and subscriptions leapt 46%. Shares were -3.2% premarket.
Royal Bank of Scotland's Q1 net profit soared to £1.2B ($2.02B) from £393M a year earlier, lifted by a significant drop in impairments at the bank's troubled Irish division, and by not having to make new provisions for the mis-selling of payment-protection insurance or for toxic assets. Analysts had expected a loss of £200M. Revenue fell to £5.05B from £5.16B but topped consensus of £4.7B. Meanwhile, RBS (NYSE:RBS) could reportedly float its Irish unit, Ulster Bank. RBS's shares were +6.2% premarket.
GM is due in court today for a procedural conference where the company will try to persuade a judge to enforce a ban on it being sued for claims related to incidents prior to its exit from bankruptcy in 2009. The conference comes as GM (NYSE:GM) faces dozens of lawsuits over crashes linked to the defect in ignition switches in certain models. Plaintiffs argue that GM fraudulently hid its knowledge of the problem, so it can't be be protected from liability.
Berkshire Hathaway has agreed to acquire SNC-Lavalin's (OTCPK:SNCAF) AltaLink, the operator of electric transmission lines in Canada, for $3.24B. Berkshire's (NYSE:BRK.A) power unit has been expanding through acquisitions under CEO Greg Abel, while SNC is moving away from infrastructure investments to put resources into engineering and construction.
The Fed has published a list of 15 U.S. and foreign financial firms that "may pose elevated risks to U.S. financial stability" and so will receive extra supervision by a cross-disciplinary special unit called the Large Institution Supervision Coordinating Committee. Companies on the list include Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK) and Barclays (NYSE:BCS).
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In Asia, Japan -0.2% to 14458. Hong Kong +0.6% to 22261. China closed. India -0.1% to 22404.
In Europe, at midday, London +0.1%. Paris -0.3%. Frankfurt flat.
Futures at 6:20: Dow +0.1%. S&P +0.1%. Nasdaq +0.1%. Crude +0.5% to $99.90. Gold -0.9% to $1284.70.
Ten-year Treasury Yield +1 bps to 2.63%
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