RBS Rights Issue Leads European Financials, General Indices Lower

Includes: FEU, FEZ, IEV, RBS
by: John Phillips

Taking a look at the equity-related news from overnight, in sector rotation overnight Merrill Lynch raised its ratings for both the European basic resources and European insurance sectors to overweight, cut its ratings on the European media and European technology sectors to neutral, and cut its rating for the European retail sector to underweight. The Royal Bank of Scotland (NYSE:RBS) officially announced overnight its £12B rights issues. RBS increased its targeted capital ratios to 7.5%-8.5% for Tier 1 capital and in excess of 6% for core Tier 1 capital. RBS noted that the overall underlying performance of the group has remained satisfactory with the exception of a slowdown in capital markets activity in global banking & markets. RBS also noted that the 2007 dividend payout ratio of around 45% remains sustainable over the medium-term Melrose [MRO.UK] agreed overnight to acquire UK-based manufacturing group FKI [FKI.UK] in a cash and stock deal valued at around £478M.

In the newspapers overnight, according to the Wall Street Journal Tribune [TRB] is closing in on an agreement to sell Newsday to News Corp (NASDAQ:NWS) for about $580M. Citing sources familiar with the matter the article said that both parties have informally agreed on price, structure and governance. In an interview with The Independent Teun Draaisma, Morgan Stanley's chief European strategist, predicted the end of the FTSE’s rally. Draaisma said that the recent rally will be short-lived, noting that his “all-important market timing indicators have given the warning that the rally is over". Furthermore the group is forecasting a 16% decline in European earnings in 2008.

These headlines aren’t very surprising anymore, but crude oil reached new record highs during European trading, breaking through the $118-handle. In energy news overnight Unicredit raised its 2008 average Brent crude price forecast to $99/barrel overnight, and boosted its 2009 average price forecast to $95/barrel. The IEA Chief said overnight that there is a possibility that high oil price could tip world economy into recession. He added that high oil prices may dampen oil demand. According to a union official, UK Refinery workers will resume talks with Ineos on Tuesday. Recall that the 205K bpd refinery has already begun shutting down ahead of the looming strike. OPEC’s Secretary General said overnight that OPEC plans to invest $160B through 2012 to boost capacity. He added that the investment plan seen boosting capacity by 5M bpd.

Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) confirmed overnight two additional attacks on one of its oil pipelines. Shell said that no oil output was lost as a result of the additional attacks. In line with the action of many airlines as of late Air France [AF.FR] raised some of their fuel surcharges overnight. It is interesting to note that the airline said that it will withdraw half of fuel surcharges if the price oil falls below $100/barrel. The Wall Street Journal wrote about Saudi Arabia's oil production and the difficulties of drilling at the Khurais oil field. According to the article the country's Khurais complex is expected to add 1.2M bpd to oil markets, but in order to tap the field Aramco plans to spend up to $15B. The article noted that after Khurais, Saudi Arabia will have only one known mega-field left to fully develop, which is the Manifa field. According to the article, some are skeptical of Saudi Arabia's ability to turn the Khurais field into the 4th most productive oil field in the world.

In new supply overnight Japan sold ¥730.6B in 20-year bonds with an average yield of 2.169% and a bid-to-cover of 3.89x. The cover compares to the 3.03x seen at the previous auction. The Greek PDMA sold €1.92B in 3.8% March 2011 GGBs with an average yield of 4.33%% and a bid-to-cover of 2.89x overnight. The cover compares to the 3.11x seen at the previous auction. In fixed-income related news, Germany's BdB banking association has reportedly taken control of property lender Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank after the lender encountered financial problems related to the market crisis. BdB plans to sell the lender, which has approximately €27B in total assets. The lender is primarily focused on lending to government authorities and public-sector banks but also conducted large-volume lending for commercial real estate. A management board member from the lender was later quoted saying that the lender does not have any liquidity issues, and is still making a profit. The Financial Times wrote overnight that UK bankers agree the Bank of England’s mortgage plan will help to restore industry confidence.

The Chairman of HSBC (HBC) said that the plan will help to ease some of the current market dislocations in the UK. The article noted that there is little indication that the plan will revive mortgage or housing markets, and that bankers believe that the plan is not likely to lead to a large reduction in mortgage rates. The Independent wrote overnight that banks and building societies will be urged at a crisis meeting with the Chancellor today to pass on cuts in interest rates and to give greater flexibility to customers in trouble with the mortgage repayments following the Bank of England’s mortgage-swap bailout scheme.

In central bank speak, the ECB's Mersch said in an interview with FT Deutschland that inflation in the EU will likely remain above 3% through late autumn. Mersch added that it is clear that the EU's inflation problem extends beyond factors from outside the region, and said that he doubted whether it could be argued that the ECB policy lies in the restrictive area. The ECB Noyer said overnight that raw material costs are high, and noted that we have a surge in inflation. Noyer said that it is impossible to believe that it will continue to grow at the present rate, and forecasted 2008 French GDP growth of 1.5% to 2.0%.

The Spanish Finance Minister said overnight that he sees inflation around 3% at the end of 2008, adding that unemployment could reach 10%. The ECB’s Garganas said overnight that inflation risks have increased in the short-term, but noted that inflation is likely to fall sharply in 2009. Garganas continued noting that interest rate decisions will depend on inflation, and added that timely action will prevent second round effects. Garganas reiterated the view that ECB is committed to achieving price stability, adding that a recession in US is very possible.

Looking ahead, March home sales are due out in the US this morning along with the Richmond Fed manufacturing index. Results from Monday’s TAF auction are due out after the open this morning. Ahead of the US data Canadian data will take center stage as the Bank of Canada is due to announce its interest rate decision. The BOC is widely expected to cut rates by 50bps to 3.00%, however, 33% of economists in a recent survey predicted that the BOC will cut rates by 25bps in lieu of 50bps. That decision is due at 9:00 ET. In new supply today the treasury is scheduled to sell 5-year inflation index notes at 13:00 ET.

On the earnings front US notables Countrywide Financial (CFC), EL Du Pont De Nemours (NYSE:DD), Jetblue Airway Corp (NASDAQ:JBLU), Kimberly Clark (NYSE:KMB), Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), McDonalds (NYSE:MCD), Smith International (SII), AT&T (NYSE:T), United Health Group (NYSE:UNH), and Wyeth (WYE) among others are due out in the US pre-market today.