Wall Street Breakfast: Is Japan Running Out Of Options?

by: Wall Street Breakfast
Wall Street Breakfast
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Japan's Finance Minister has described the dollar's recent falls vs. the yen as "one-sided movements" and vowed to intervene if necessary to continue the country's fight against deflation. "We are watching moves with a sense of tension," Taro Aso told a press conference after the greenback sank to a 17-month low of 107.67 yen on Thursday. "We will take necessary steps in accordance with circumstances." The dollar has tumbled nearly 10% against the Japanese currency this year, with the past week accounting for roughly 3% of the move.


Current Fed Chair Janet Yellen appeared last night with predecessors Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker for a panel discussion at the International House of New York, seeking to dispel worries the U.S. is headed back toward recession. "This is an economy on a solid course, not a bubble economy," Yellen declared. "It has made tremendous progress from the damage of the financial crisis." Other comments from the "Fed Four" marked a further sign of guarded confidence from the world's most powerful (past and present) economic policy makers.

More Fedspeak on tap... Officials from different camps are set to talk ahead of the Wall Street open, and they could make some waves in already seasick markets. NY Fed President William Dudley, who is seen as closely aligned with Yellen in the dove camp, speaks at 8:30 a.m., while Philly Fed's Patrick Harker, who has called for the central bank to get on with rate hikes, gives remarks at 9 a.m. No shortage today! Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan will pick up the mic a half hour later at 9:30 a.m.

"Gloom and doom doesn't seem to be the right way of thinking about things," Former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard told CNBC, stating that ECB jumped the gun by moving to negative rates. "It probably works, but it really has effects on the banking system," he said. "I don't expect things to go that bad that they have to use them." Blanchard added that if necessary, he would rather the central bank use quantitative easing measures such as bond-buying to bring down the value of the euro.

The Panama Papers scandal has claimed its first banking chief executive with the resignation of Michael Grahammer, CEO of Austrian lender Hypo Landesbank Vorarlberg. With new details of offshore accounts surfacing, more high profile and political figures are looking to come clean. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted to benefiting from a fund of his late father, but said that it was not set up to avoid taxes, and he himself paid state dues on the shares he sold.

A ferry carrying 45 migrants left the Greek island of Lesbos for Turkey this morning, marking the second such journey carried out under a controversial deal to curb mass irregular migration to Europe. Under the EU's agreement with Turkey, migrants who have arrived illegally in Greece since March 20 are expected to be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their claim is rejected.

The U.S and Russia are working on drafting a new constitution for Syria, according to diplomats familiar with the situation, in the clearest sign yet of the two powers' determination to broker a solution to the country's five-year civil war. The joint efforts are at an early stage, and Russia's current proposals are closer to the Syrian government's position, but the two nations are continuing to exchange ideas.

Preparing for a return to the global debt markets, Argentina is laying the groundwork for its long-awaited bond sale next week, to help pay off holdouts who had rejected a debt restructuring. Marketing of the sale by the Latin American country - which is expected to top $12B - will kick off in New York and London on Monday, before bankers and Argentine policymakers travel to Los Angeles, Boston and Washington.

The World Trade Organization has revised its 2016 global trade forecast downward by more than one percentage point, warning that a slowdown in China and broad market volatility continue to threaten growth. In September, the WTO estimated that global trade would rise by 3.9% this year, but it now sees a figure of 2.8%, the same rate as 2015 and the fifth year in a row it has been below 3%. "Trade is still registering positive growth, albeit at a disappointing rate," WTO Director-General Robert Azevedo said in a statement.


Shares of Yahoo whipsawed yesterday following news that Verizon (NYSE:VZ) would move forward with a bid for the tech giant (which may also include Japan interests). In February, Verizon chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam said Yahoo (YHOO) could fit under the AOL umbrella "at the right price," which Bloomberg cites at $8B. Alphabet's Google (GOOG, GOOGL) and Time (TIME) are also reportedly weighing offers, but AT&T (NYSE:T) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) are losing interest, and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is set to drop out of the race. YHOO +1.1% premarket.

General Motors has settled a lawsuit that would have been the third bellwether case to go to trial over its faulty ignition switch linked to nearly 400 injuries and deaths. The first case that went to trial earlier this year was dismissed after GM uncovered evidence the plaintiffs committed fraud, while a second trial ended with the jury determining the ignition switch wasn't to blame for a crash despite the part being defective. What's the tally now up to? The automaker has paid more than $2B to the Justice Department, shareholders and thousands of consumers.

Uber has agreed to a $25M settlement to end a civil lawsuit in California that accused the ride-sharing company of misleading customers about the strength of its background checks on drivers. "It sends a clear message to all businesses, and to startups in particular, that in the quest to quickly obtain market share laws designed to protect consumers cannot be ignored," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said. UBER welcomed the settlement by declaring, "we're glad to put this case behind us."

Saying the deal could adversely affect the country's national defense, the U.S. military has raised concerns with a federal rail regulator over the voting trust Canadian Pacific (NYSE:CP) proposed as part of its takeover bid for Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC). In a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the Department of Defense asserted CP's proposal to have its CEO Hunter Harrison run Norfolk Southern as part of the voting trust "could prove to be untenable due to the appearance of common control" of the two railroads.

After losing a boardroom clash that pitted him against Third Point's Daniel Loeb, the 83-year-old chief of the 7-Eleven empire (OTCPK:SVNDY), Toshifumi Suzuki, is stepping down. The move is a milestone for the budding activist-shareholder movement in Japan and a potential harbinger for executives who had until recently been sheltered from agitating investors. Loeb has previously rattled cages at other Japanese firms including Sony (NYSE:SNE), which he challenged to restructure their unprofitable units, and industrial-robot maker Fanuc Corp (OTCPK:FANUY).

More activist talk... Depomed (NASDAQ:DEPO) climbed 9.3% in after-hours trading as Starboard Value disclosed a 9.8% stake in the company and expressed "significant" concerns over corporate governance. In the filing, Starboard accused Depomed of having a record of "egregiously manipulating" corporate rules to entrench management and said it would seek to replace the board to bring about "meaningful" change. DEPO -12% YTD.

Is Bausch & Lomb on the block? "It's a core asset," announced long-time Valeant (NYSE:VRX) stakeholder and current board member Bill Ackman. "We're only considering selling non-core assets." But before joining the company's board in March, Ackman had broached the possibility of selling the eye-care unit, telling Bloomberg that it was a "very valuable standalone business." Investors are also debating whether Valeant's stock price has found a bottom, after the embattled drugmaker's shares advanced 36% since Tuesday, marking the best three-day run since 1996.

Gap shares fell 9% in extended trading after the retailer reported that its same-store sales fell 6% to $1.43B in March, compared to a 2% increase a year ago. Banana Republic took the slumping label title, reporting a 14% drop vs. a 3% decline a year earlier. Gap (NYSE:GPS) also said Q1 margins will be under pressure because it entered April with more inventory than planned.

The legal team of mogul Sumner Redstone has reportedly reached a draft settlement with his ex-girlfriend in the mental competency case that has roiled investors in the companies he controls - CBS and Viacom (VIA, VIAB). Manuela Herzer had sued to challenge her removal as the healthcare agent for Redstone, now aged 92. According to Reuters, the settlement calls for a local, neutral third party to oversee Redstone's day-to-day care.

Adobe Systems is issuing an emergency update to its widely used Flash software for Internet browsers after researchers discovered a security flaw that was being exploited to deliver ransomware. More than the 1B users of Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) Flash on Windows, Mac, Chrome and Linux computers should update the product as quickly as possible, the company said in a statement. Ransomware schemes have boomed in recent months, with increasingly sophisticated techniques and tools used in such operations.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer has described the government's SIFI designation for MetLife (NYSE:MET) as "arbitrary and capricious," in a decision certainly being devoured by other non-bank SIFIs, such as AIG and Prudential (NYSE:PRU). Her ruling was made public last week, but the details were released on Thursday. Among the issues, said Collyer, was that the FSOC "focused exclusively on the presumed benefits" of making Met a SIFI without consideration of the costs, "which is itself unreasonable."

Compensation for chief executives of the biggest U.S. companies fell more sharply in 2015 than any year since the financial crisis, as weaker corporate performance slowed cash bonuses and accounting rules pared back pension growth. According to a WSJ analysis of compensation data from MyLogIQ, median pay for the heads of nearly 300 large publicly traded companies slipped 3.8% to $10.8M last year from $11.2M in 2014. Half of those CEOs saw total pay either decline or rise by less than 1% - also the worst showing for S&P 500 chiefs since 2008.

Thursday's Key Earnings

Rite Aid (NYSE:RAD) -0.5% on declining same-store sales.

Today's Markets

In Asia, Japan +0.5% to 15822. Hong Kong +0.5% to 20370. China -0.8% to 2985. India -0.1% to 24674.
In Europe, at midday, London +0.7%. Paris +0.9%. Frankfurt +0.9%.
Futures at 6:20, Dow +0.6%. S&P +0.6%. Nasdaq +0.7%. Crude +3.5% to $38.57. Gold -0.4% to $1232.70.
Ten-year Treasury Yield +3 bps to 1.72%

Today's Economic Calendar

8:30 Fed's Williams Speech
10:00 Wholesale Trade
1:00 PM Baker-Hughes Rig Count

Companies reporting earnings today