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Frontrunning: March 2

  • Hilsenrath: Fed Ushering in New Era of Uncertainty on Rates (WSJ)
  • Is Supreme Court's chief justice ready to take down ObamaCare? (The Hill)
  • Netanyahu arrives in U.S., signs of easing of tensions over Iran speech (Reuters)
  • Nemtsov Murder Fuels Suspicion, Fails to Spur Russia Selloff (BBG)
  • ECB uncomfortable with leading role in Greek funding drama (Reuters)
  • Video shows Los Angeles police shooting homeless man dead (Reuters)
  • Iraq Military Begins Campaign to Reclaim Tikrit (WSJ)
  • How Billionaires in London Use Secret Luxury Homes to Hide Assets (BBG)
  • European Banks’ Reciprocity Draws Scrutiny (WSJ)
  • Berkshire insurance 'superstar' could fill Buffett's shoes (Reuters)
  • RadioShack Gifts That Don't Keep On Giving (BBG)
  • HSBC Whistleblower Says He Can Prove HSBC Knew of Tax Abuses (BBG)
  • 1 semiconductor + 1 semiconductor = 1 conductor? NXP to buy Freescale, create $40 billion company (Reuters)
  • Apple’s Looming Watch Spurs Frenzy of Upgrades for Android Timepieces (BBG)

 

 

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* Thousands of Russians marched in Moscow in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, whose slaying has sent shock waves through society as the highest-profile assassination in Russia during the Putin era. (http://on.wsj.com/1N7hdA6)

* A showdown this week between the White House and Israel's Netanyahu has far-reaching implications for ties between the two countries and the shape of power and influence in the Middle East. (http://on.wsj.com/1BvVE7H)

* Telecom firms trying to connect billions more people to the Web are not sure if Facebook Inc is their friend or foe. Tensions between the phone and Internet industries will be on display at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. (http://on.wsj.com/1vQTb6W)

* Ajit Jain, who runs Berkshire Hathaway Inc's reinsurance business, and Greg Abel, who runs the conglomerate's energy business, have emerged as favorites to succeed Warren Buffett as CEO. (http://on.wsj.com/1EEnLm5)

* NXP Semiconductors and Freescale Semiconductor have agreed to merge in a deal that values Freescale at $11.8 billion and would create a combined company with a market value of more than $30 billion. (http://on.wsj.com/1N7hrqW)

* A surprise rate cut by China's central bank underscores the increasingly aggressive measures the leadership is relying on to rev up activity in the world's second-largest economy. (http://on.wsj.com/1vQS7A0)

* Rebekah Brooks, the former News Corp executive who resigned in 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal at the now-defunct UK tabloid the News of the World, is close to finalizing a deal to return to the company, people familiar with the matter said. (http://on.wsj.com/1E8kvAw)

 

FT

Luxury sports car brand Aston Martin is set to revamp its image of an iconic British carmaker and focus on women and youth in its forthcoming models and designs. Andy Palmer, Aston Martin's CEO, who joined the Warwickshire-based carmaker in October, will tell the Geneva motor show that they plan to add two new product lines.

NXP Semiconductors, makers of chips that are used in credit and debit cards, has bought its rival Freescale in a deal that would create a company with a total value of $40 billion.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman has threatened to go to court if the British government tries to block a 5 mln euro deal that will give Fridman ownership of RWE Dea, the oil and gas arm of Germany's RWE.

French telecom operator Orange is eyeing a partnership with its Italian rival Telecom Italia to create further consolidation in the European telecom market. Orange CEO Stephane Richard said in an interview to French weekly Journal du Dimanche that a tie-up "would be an attractive European consolidation opportunity."

 

NYT

* Controlling China's sprawling food supply chain has proved a frustrating endeavor. Now, with a quick scan of a code with a smartphone, shoppers can look up a fruit's complete journey from the field to a bin in a Beijing supermarket. The smartphone feature, which also details soil and water tests from the farm, is intended to ensure that a fruit has not been contaminated anywhere along the way. (http://nyti.ms/1K6hV1s)

* Wells Fargo & Co, one of the largest subprime car lenders, is pulling back from that roaring market, a move that is being felt throughout the broader auto industry. Wells Fargo has imposed a cap for the first time on the amount of loans it will extend to subprime borrowers. (http://nyti.ms/1K6ipVh)

* On the 35th floor of a two-bedroom rental overlooking the East River, Dennis Kozlowski lives with his new wife, Kimberly, in relative modesty - at least compared with his previous life as the extravagant chief of Tyco International Plc. (http://nyti.ms/1K6iEjn)

* Rebekah Brooks, the former head of Rupert Murdoch's media holdings in Britain, acquitted last year on charges related to the phone hacking scandal, is likely to return to News Corp to focus on new avenues for digital and social media, people familiar with the company's plans said. (http://nyti.ms/1K6jf4s)

* NXP Semiconductors NV said on Sunday it would buy a smaller peer, Freescale Semiconductor Ltd, in an $11.8 billion deal that would create a big maker of chips for industries as varied as automobiles and mobile payments. (http://nyti.ms/1K6jGvC)

* AT&T Inc, the second-largest wireless carrier in the United States, says it is has found life beyond being a phone carrier. The company said that this year it is poised to become a more diversified company, with money coming in from connected cars and the "Internet of Things." AT&T also says that business solutions, or services it offers to businesses, will be its largest source of income. (http://nyti.ms/1K6k4KE)

 

Hong Kong

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

-- At least 16 People's Liberation Army major generals have been taken away for investigation in relation to graft cases involving their former superiors, according to sources close to the military. Two independent sources close to the PLA said most of the officers were either secretaries or relatives of former military commanders or senior officers. (bit.ly/1vPY540)

-- A 61-year-old man has become the first person in Hong Kong to die of H7N9 bird flu this season, after contracting the virus during a visit to the mainland. It came as three more adults died from H3N2 influenza on Sunday, taking the total deaths from flu this year to 307, higher than that from the Sars outbreak in 2003, which claimed 299 lives in Hong Kong. (bit.ly/1AWzMR5)

-- The boost to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing's turnover from the Shanghai stock connect scheme in recent months has brokers expecting good profit growth figures when the local bourse announces its results on Thursday. Credit Suisse expects HKEx to report HK$5.08 billion ($655.15 million) net profit for last year, up 12 percent from 2013. (bit.ly/18Cwx8g)

THE STANDARD

-- More than 60 percent of Hongkongers feel the Legislative Council should pass the government's political reform package while 30 percent disagree, according to the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. It said the survey was conducted on its behalf by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Centre. (bit.ly/1M2xmoS)

-- Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah set up his Facebook account last month to better communicate his eighth budget to Hongkongers. Writing in his blog, Tsang said it is the first time he is using Facebook to communicate with the public and some have even mocked him for being "out" late on social media. (bit.ly/1Dsifi8)

-- Several online lottery sales platforms in the mainland have been closed, reflecting Beijing's determination to clean up the industry. Alibaba said it has suspended sales of lotteries on Taobao Lottery platform in response to an order from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, while Tencent confirmed that all lottery business on its QQ and PC platform has been suspended. (bit.ly/1E7SDwu)

MING PAO DAILY

-- The number of public phone booths in Hong Kong fell to 1,630 from 1,920 in the year 2000, amid advances in mobile telecommunications technology and the popularity of smartphones, according to data from the city's Office of the Communications Authority.

 

Britain

The Times

Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Authority tabled a 1.6 bln pound takeover bid for Maybourne Hotel Group, owner of Claridge's, the Berkeley and the Connaught in London. (http://thetim.es/1Bv3b6G)

Stephen Schwarzman, the boss of the world's largest buyout firms, Blackstone, took home $690 mln last year in one of the biggest paydays in Wall Street history. (http://thetim.es/1Bv3lev)

The Guardian

More than 300 young people have been groomed and sexually exploited by gangs of men in Oxfordshire in the past 15 years, a damning report into the failures of police and social services to stop years of sexual torture, trafficking and rape will reveal, the Guardian has learned. (http://bit.ly/1Bv3JJK)

A coalition row about limiting free speech on university campuses to ban hate preachers has broken out with the Tories saying their default position is now that any extremist speaker should be banned, given the potential damage they can do. (http://bit.ly/1Bv3Q8a)

The Telegraph

The Liberal Democrats plan to hit the UK banking industry with an additional 1 bln pound tax bill, which the party says will help eliminate the country's deficit. The supplementary charge will be in addition to the existing bank levy, which is on track to raise 8 bln pounds in this parliamentary session, said Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury. (http://bit.ly/1BuJuMv)

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has softened his hard-line attitude towards Greece, saying its new left-wing Syriza government needs "a bit of time" but appears to be able to work towards resolving its debt crisis. (http://bit.ly/1Bv453b)

Sky News

Energy price comparison websites have been "duping" customers into switching to deals that are not the cheapest on the market and should pay them compensation, a group of MPs have said. Energy and Climate Change Committee said some sites had used misleading language to dupe consumers into options that only displayed commission-earning deals. (http://bit.ly/1Bv4eUm)

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union is organising gatherings in London, Doncaster and Edinburgh to protest against the East Coast Main Line being handed over to Virgin and Stagecoach. (http://bit.ly/1Bv4nqF)

The Independent

The BBC will back a radical overhaul of the licence fee, paving the way for the end of the current system of funding the state broadcaster, the Corporation's head, Tony Hall, is expected to say today. (http://ind.pn/1Bv5S8r)

Lloyds is to pay its first dividend since the financial crisis but faces a growing controversy over the huge rewards handed to its executives as a result, including £11.5m to boss Antonio Horta-Osorio. (http://ind.pn/1Bv65sn)

 

 

Fly On The Wall Pre-Market Buzz

ECONOMIC REPORTS

Domestic economic reports scheduled for today include:
Personal income for January at 8:30--consensus up 0.4%
Personal spending for January at 8:30--consensus down  0.1%
Markit manufacturing PMI for February at 9:45--consensus 54.3
ISM manufacturing index for February at 10:00--consensus 53.0
Construction spending for January at 10:00--consensus up 0.3%

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Alaska Air (ALK) upgraded to Buy from Hold at Stifel
Digital Realty (DLR) upgraded to Buy from Hold at Stifel
Jack Henry (JKHY) upgraded to Outperform from Perform at Oppenheimer
OM Asset Management (OMAM) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Telefonica (TEF) upgraded to Outperform from Sector Perform at RBC Capital
United Rentals (URI) upgraded to Overweight from Equal Weight at Morgan Stanley

Downgrades

Ashford Hospitality (AHT) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at Credit Suisse
Bank of Ireland (IRE) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Deutsche Bank
BlackRock (BLK) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
CONE Midstream (CNNX) downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight at Barclays
Cloud Peak (CLD) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Brean Capital
Cracker Barrel (CBRL) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Miller Tabak
Crane (CR) downgraded to Underperform from Neutral at BofA/Merrill
DDR Corp. (DDR) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman
IBM (IBM) downgraded to Underweight from Neutral at Atlantic Equities
InterXion (INXN) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Stifel
Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Brean Capital
Lumber Liquidators (LL) downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight at Morgan Stanley
MarkWest Energy (MWE) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Wunderlich
Michaels (MIK) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman
Navient (NAVI) downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight at Barclays
Navient (NAVI) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Compass Point
Northern Oil and Gas (NOG) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at SunTrust
Oasis Petroleum (OAS) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Guggenheim
PTC Therapeutics (PTCT) downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan
SBA Communications (SBAC) downgraded to Outperform from Top Pick at RBC Capital
Safe Bulkers (SB) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
Spirit Airlines (SAVE) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Stifel
Sucampo (SCMP) downgraded to Underperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse
Synageva (GEVA) downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan
TCP International (TCPI) downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at Piper Jaffray
Walter Investment (WAC) downgraded to Underperform from Market Perform at FBR Capital
Wayfair (W) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup

Initiations

Chemtura (CHMT) initiated with an Outperform at RW Baird
Euronav NV (EURN) initiated with an Overweight at JPMorgan
LabCorp (LH) initiated with an Overweight at Barclays
Quest Diagnostics (DGX) initiated with an Equal Weight at Barclays
TerraForm (TERP) initiated with a Buy at UBS

COMPANY NEWS

NXP Semiconductors (NXPI), Freescale (FSL) announced $40B merger agreement
Buffett said sold entire Exxon Mobil (XOM) stake in Q4, said that his likely cost for IBM (IBM) shares is around $170
Mitel (MITL) agrees to acquire Mavenir Systems for $560M
Samsung (SSNLF) announced the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge phones and Samsung Pay mobile payment system
U.S. DOE to end contracts with Navient's (NAVI) Pioneer Credit, other agencies. Navient said losses Department of Education contract worth $65M in 2014
BlackBerry (BBRY) unveils software and services vision, expands cross platform strategy across all smartphone and tablets running iOS (AAPL), Android (GOOG), and Windows (MSFT) operating systems

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
Intercept (ICPT), Dresser-Rand (DRC), Cleco (CNL)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
Emerge Energy (EMES), Pattern Energy (PEGI), Gran Tierra (GTE), OPKO Health (OPK), Cleco (CNL)

LSB Industries (LXU) reports Q4 adjusted EPS 9c vs. (42c) a year ago
Pattern Energy (PEGI) reports Q4 EPS (36c) vs. (17c) a year ago
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) reports Q4 operating EPS $2,412 vs. $2,297 in Q413
Cleco (CNL) sees FY15 EPS $2.28-$2.38, consensus $2.51
Vermilion Energy (VET) reports Q4 EPS 55c vs. 50c a year ago

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES

Citi (C) CEO, CFO may be pressured to leave if bank fails stress test, FT reports
Alibaba (BABA) to invest $316M in Taiwan entrepreneurs, WSJ reports
Lumber Liquidators (LL) linked to health and safety violations, CBS' 60 Minutes says
Samsung (SSNLF) expects Galaxy S6 to become company's best-selling model, DigiTimes reports
Wells Fargo (WFC) to place limit on subprime auto loans, NY Times reports
EMC (EMC) decides against spinning off stake in VMware (VMW), Reuters reports
Google (GOOG) shares could rise 5%-10% with a dividend, Barron's says
American Express (AXP) shares could rally 15%, Barron's says
Campbell Soup (CPB) could drop 5%-10%, Barron's says

SYNDICATE

Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP) files automatic mixed securities shelf
Aqua America (WTR) files automatic mixed securities shelf
Bank of America (BAC) files mixed securities shelf
Cleveland BioLabs (CBLI) files to sell 2.07M shares of common stock for holders
Continental Building (CBPX) files to sell $22.5M in common stock for holder
Empire State files to sell 15.74M shares of Class A common stock for holders
Essent Group (ESNT) files automatic mixed securities shelf
Essent Group (ESNT) files to sell 41.01M shares of common stock for holders
Healthcare Trust (HTA) files automatic mixed securities shelf
Healthcare Trust (HTA) files to sell 2.5M shares of Class A common for holders
Hess Corp. (HES) files automatic mixed securities shelf
Ignyta (RXDX) files $150M mixed securities shelf
Kimco Realty (KIM) announces $500M 'at the market' equity offering program
Kimco Realty (KIM) files automatic mixed securities shelf
LifePoint (LPNT) files automatic mixed securities shelf
ModusLink (MLNK) files $100M mixed securities shelf
Nationstar (NSM) files automatic mixed securities shelf
Organovo (ONVO) files $190M mixed securities shelf