BOE Minutes Confirm Inflation, Slowing Growth

 |  Includes: EWG, EWU, FXB, FXE, IEV
by: John Phillips

In the newspapers, according to the Wall Street Journal, an investment group made up of Boston Properties (NYSE:BXP), Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and 2 Middle Eastern investors is in talks to buy the GM building from Macklowe. The total deal could be worth $3.6B-$3.9B. The Financial Times noted overnight that AiG's (NYSE:AIG) larger than expected capital raise has increased fears that the firm may make more big credit-related writedowns. The Wall Street Journal reported overnight that Barnes and Noble (NYSE:BKS) is mulling a bid for Borders (BGP). According to the WSJ, Barnes & Noble has assembled a team of executives and advisers to study a bid for Borders. The Wall Street Journal wrote overnight that Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) is expected to spin off Time Warner Cable (TWC). The article also notes that, as part of the separation, Time Warner is set to reap a $9.25B windfall from a special $10/share dividend to be paid by the cable company. Finanza & Mercati reported that Finmeccanica [FNC.IT] may sell its railway unit Ansaldo [STS.IT] for DRS (DRS) Funding, however Finmeccanica later denied the report. According to Parkiet Lukoil’s (OTCPK:LUKOY) Polish unit has sold all of its liquefied petroleum gas assets in Poland to Barter. Financial terms were not disclosed. Il Sole 24 wrote overnight that Telecom Italia (NYSE:TI) holder Telco (23.6% holder) decided not to carry out a €900M share sale.

In energy news overnight, the Wall Street Journal noted that oil-field thefts are rising as oil prices move higher. The article noted that oil companies and law enforcement officials have been stepping up security at wells that are being targeted. Sinopec (NYSE:SNP) said overnight that it is ready to resume Sichuan field output. The company said that daily natural gas production reached 3M cubic meters on May 18 and output was 8M cubic meters/day before the earthquake. OPEC's Secretary General Badri said overnight that OPEC is worried because high prices are not related to supply and demand, adding that OPEC does not need to hold an extraordinary meeting. Badri said that the declining USD and financial speculation are responsible for current oil prices, noting that oil could keep rising if non-market factors such as the USD fall continue pressuring prices. Badri reiterated that OPEC will act when market fundamentals show a need to do so. The Wall Street Journal looked at the US military’s plans to increase its reliance on alternative-fuels overnight, noting that the US military consumes 340M bpd of oil, which is 1.5% of all the oil used by the US. For synthetic fuel, the Air Force is working with aircraft makers such as Boeing (NYSE:BA) and UTX (NYSE:UTX). Synthetic-fuel processors, including Rentech (NYSEMKT:RTK), Baard Energy and Synthroleum are also hoping to build synthetic fuel refineries aimed at the military's needs. World Gas Intelligence wrote overnight that "It's now clear: Only about half of the nearly 20 million tons per year in new liquefaction capacity that at the start of this year looked set to begin operation in 2008 will actually do so, due to delays at Tangguh LNG, operational problems in Norway and feedgas shortages in Nigeria." The result is likely to be continued tight LNG markets at least through next winter. Less in the forefront of market analysis is a spin-off result: 2009 could well see over 40 million tons/yr in new capacity. According to Petrologistics, OPEC oil output expected at 32.4M BPD in May, up from the 31.7M in April as the result of higher levels of supply from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran.

In fixed income related news, according to the Wall Street Journal, President Bush plans to use Treasury funds to aid student-loan market liquidity. The administration will use the Treasury's funds to buy loans from private lenders and to invest in special loan-backed trusts. According to a Financial Times probe, Moodys awarded incorrect triple A ratings to billions of dollars worth of a type of complex product due to a bug in its computer models. Internal Moodys documents seen by the FT show that some senior staff knew early in 2007 that products rated the previous year had received AAA ratings and that, after a computer coding error was corrected, their ratings should have been up to 4 notches lower.

In the currencies, the Euro maintained its firm tone in the overnight session as the IFO data confirmed the robustness of the German economy. The EUR/USD penetrated the 1.5680 area to embark on a potential retest of the 1.60-handle. Comments from the IFO members noted that no urgency is necessary for any potential rate cut by the ECB. The IFO said that the Euro’s rise was a concern, but noted that exports level remain positive. In carry-related pairs, there was little evidence that risk aversion were having much effect in causing any unwinding of positions. The EUR/JPY higher by 75 pips as it near the 163-area and EUR/CHF cross firmer by 50 pips at 1.6275. USD sentiment remained on the defensive as commodities continue their trend higher.

On the speaker front, following the May IFO data, the IFO's Abberger said that the ECB should wait as no interest rate move needed right now, adding that private consumption should moderate. Abberger said that the IFO will raise its German 2008 economic growth forecast of 1.6% in June, noting that the economic situation in Q2 is expected to be weaker but is not seen collapsing. Abberger added that the high Euro dampening company earnings, but export expectations are still good. The IFO's Nerb said that the downturn in Germany is expected to be rather moderate, noting that he sees no urgency for an ECB interest rate cut, adding that an interest Rate hike is completely out of scope. Nerb said that he hopes that inflation will come down in later months, and hopes for a rate cut in autumn. Nerb said that the that Euro is fundamentally overvalued, expect to ease later in the year, adding that German growth could be a good 2% in 2008. The Bank of England minutes showed that the MPC voted 8-1 to keep rates on hold at the May policy-setting meeting, with David Blanchflower the dissenting voter as expected. Blanchflower argued in favor of a 25bps rate cut saying that he sees a clear risk of CPI below 2.0%, adding that weaker growth posed the risk of undershooting CPI. The BOE majority argued that an immediate cut would suggest that the MPC’s focus is on growth, adding that some slowing in output growth is likely necessary in order to reach the CPI target. Furthermore the BOE said that reaching the 2.0% CPI target is undesirable in the next year. George Soros said in an interview overnight that the BoE should cut rates, adding that the UK does not have much room for fiscal stimulus. Soros said that the Dollar’s decline has fueled inflation noting that he expects US housing prices to drop quite sharply. In the UK the Council of Mortgage Lenders said overnight that the see the BOE cutting rates to 4.75% by the end of 2008. The CML said that house prices are expected to decline by 7% in 2008, while gross mortgage lending is expected to decline by 21%.

On the data front, German IFO data, which was expected to post slight declines, rose on all fronts. The May IFO readings rose on the back of stronger-than-expected first-quarter growth in Germany as companies seemed able to cope with rising energy prices, and the strong Euro. As expected, the BOE minutes showed that members voted 8-1 to hold rates at the May policy-setting meeting with Blanchflower voting in favor of a 25bps cut. As has been the case, the BOE indicated that despite slowing growth it cannot cut rates in face of current inflationary pressures. Norwegian GDP for the first-quarter declined by more than expected, falling to 0.2% Q/Q, below estimates of 0.8%. GDP was at its lowest level in over four years largely as the result of a labor shortage. Elsewhere, Swiss ZEW expectations rose to -60.4 from -71.4 in May on signs that perhaps tensions are easing in the financial marketplace.

Looking ahead, there is only one major release expected this morning, and that is the FOMC minutes from the April 29/30 policy-setting meeting where the FOMC cut rates by 25bps as expected. There is some notable data due out in Canada this morning, namely the April CPI data, which is due out at 7:00 ET. On the earnings front US notables BJ’s Wholesale Club (NYSE:BJ), Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST), and Talbots (NYSE:TLB) are all expected to report ahead of the equity open.